I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 14 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. Pursuant to the orders of reference of April 11 and May 26, 2020, the committee is resuming its study of the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Today's meeting is taking place via video conference, and the proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website.
The webcast will always show the person speaking, rather than the entire committee. Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. When you are ready to speak, please click on the microphone icon to activate your mike.
Before I get started, I would like to remind everyone, and especially our witnesses, to please use the language channel of the language they are speaking. If you are going to switch back and forth from English to French, French to English, you also need to switch the channel before switching languages.
I would now like to thank the witnesses for joining us today. With us today, appearing as an individual, we have Mohammad Keyhani, associate professor, entrepreneurship and strategy, at the University of Calgary. From Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, we have Mathew Wilson, senior vice-president, policy and government relations.
Professor Keyhani, please proceed with your opening remarks. You have 10 minutes.
Hello. Thank you for inviting me here today. It is an honour to be speaking to members of Parliament and the broader Canadian public.
My name is Mohammad Keyhani and I am a professor of entrepreneurship and business strategy at the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary. I want to highlight and make recommendations on two issues today: digital skills and international students.
In the past several years, I have focused my teaching and research efforts on digital technologies for the next generation of entrepreneurs. Technology is rapidly changing the nature of how we launch and operate new and small businesses. An entrepreneur today has to know what a Slack channel, a growth funnel, a Zapier zap or an API is, or else they will quickly fall behind the global competition.
Canada knows that it has a digital divide problem. The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of digital skills and the digital economy. I want to point out that the Canada training credit program can be used for the purpose of responding to the sudden increase in demand for digital skills due to COVID-19. I want to encourage all working-age Canadians to take advantage of the Canada training credit to improve their digital skills, and as 2020 is the first year this credit is available, it can be leveraged by Canadians to respond to the new normal.
This program was inspired partly by Singapore's SkillsFuture program. In response to COVID-19, Singapore has doubled their training credits this year, and I recommend that Canada also consider increasing this, especially if it can be used for digital skills. This would also help to highlight the Canada training credit program once again for Canadians who may not be aware of it or may have forgotten about it in the midst of COVID-19.
That concludes my first recommendation.
To go on to my second point, I want to argue that international students should be covered by the CESB.
The COVID-19 crisis has prompted researchers and entrepreneurs across Canada to focus their efforts on coming up with solutions to the various issues around the pandemic. I have been fortunate to be able to join research teams in the University of Calgary and help them commercialize their COVID-19 response technologies.
One of these start-ups has been able to receive Health Canada authorization to produce a three-D printable nasopharyngeal swab to address the shortage of such swabs in Canada. Another start-up has been able to apply leading-edge microfluidic technology to create test kits for COVID-19 virus and immune response diagnostics. This technology has been supported by a generous CIHR grant from the government.
I am proud that researchers in Canada, right here in the University of Calgary, have the capabilities to develop these technologies. It has been truly inspiring to work with these tireless researchers, who get up early in the morning every day—including most weekends—to go to the lab and stay there long into the night while the country is in lockdown.
I want to highlight an interesting fact about these research teams that I've been working with. Most of them are international students. Of the few who aren't international students, most of them came to Canada initially as international students and eventually gained Canadian permanent residency.
After the tragic incident earlier this year when a Ukrainian flight was shot down in Iran, I was asked by two journalists how so many brilliant scientific minds could be on one flight. To me, this was an indication that perhaps we as a country do not fully grasp the extent to which international students and scholars are contributing to Canada.
In fact, Professor Mojgan Daneshmand of the University of Alberta, who died on that flight, had working relationships with our team and would likely be contributing to our COVID-19 diagnostics project today if she were alive. She came to Canada as an international student 20 years ago.
Economically, it is estimated that international students contribute $22 billion annually to the Canadian economy, and their presence here fuels 170,000 jobs. Canada is competing with other countries globally to attract international students. Many of them choose Canada not just because of the quality of education, but also because of its reputation as a multicultural and tolerant society.
Many people, including many higher education professionals and administrators, have been disappointed by the government's decision to exclude international students from the Canada emergency student benefit. There are about 640,000 international students in Canada, and many of them do not need the CESB because they have funding support from scholarships or other institutions, but many of them do need the CESB and are finding themselves in financial stress. These international students have multiple disadvantages to deal with compared with most Canadian students.
First, they pay tuition fees that are about three times higher than Canadian students. Second, they typically have no family here in Canada to rely on and no place they can go to stay with their family to avoid paying rent now that everything is online. Third, their family back home is finding it difficult to support them financially because many of them have also been impacted by COVID-19. Fourth, many of the kinds of jobs these students took to support their studies in Canada are the kinds of jobs that are hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Canada is a caring country, but if we fail to take care of our international student population now, it may impact our reputation in the global race to attract international students in the future. Our universities depend heavily on international students as the main driver of growth in our higher education sector in the past decade. For this reason, I recommend that the Government of Canada consider including international students, at least those who don't have tuition waivers, scholarships or other significant financial support, in the CESB program.
Thank you for your time and attention.
Thank you for inviting me to participate in today's discussion. It is my pleasure to be here on behalf of Canada's 90,000 manufacturers and exporters, and our association's 2,500 direct members to discuss COVID-19 in Canada's manufacturing sector.
Today, I will stress the importance of the existing wage subsidy program, the need for expanded programs to support the full restart of industry, and the requirement for a national manufacturing strategy that contains a skills component.
CME's membership covers all sizes of companies, all regions of the country, and all industrial sectors. From the early days of this crisis we've been working with our members and governments to increase the manufacture and supply of critical PPE and health care technologies needed in the response. We have also been educating and informing manufacturers on the latest developments in the crisis, including on how to access government supports and how to protect their employees and their supply chains. We have been working to understand the impact on our sector and have been advocating policy, regulatory and program supports for our sector from all levels of government.
Throughout this crisis the role and importance of Canada's manufacturing sector has never been clearer or as much discussed. Hundreds if not thousands of manufacturers have switched their production to support the making of critical PPE, such as masks, face shields and gowns, as well as ventilators. Many in our sector are aggressively working on developing better tests and a vaccine for COVID-19.
Despite the current challenging climate, unlike in other sectors, most segments of manufacturing have been able to continue to operate throughout, albeit at much lower production levels. Through the first six weeks of the crisis—through to the end of April roughly—output dropped by nearly 10 per cent and actual hours worked declined by 30%. Worse, roughly 300,000 Canadians of the 1.7 million directly employed by our sector lost their jobs.
Those job losses were heavily concentrated in sectors where consumer demand plummeted, namely automotive, aerospace and energy-related sectors. Were it not for the actions of the federal government, those numbers would have been much, much worse, and because of those actions the numbers are beginning to get better now.
The most important action taken has been the wage subsidy program. When CME first began calling for the CEWS, we had in mind that companies could maintain operations and their payrolls so they would be in a stronger position from which to recover coming out of this crisis. We believe it is achieving these results.
In a recent survey of our members, nearly 85 per cent fully supported government actions, with nearly 55 per cent stating that they were using the CEWS specifically—far and away the most used program—with tax deferrals coming in at a distant second with roughly 30 per cent use.
The heavy use of this program can be linked back to the reality that manufacturing can continue to operate, but with significantly reduced volumes and sales. Sustaining their workforce would have been impossible without the wage subsidy given the high overhead costs of maintaining manufacturing operations.
Today, we are hearing from our members who are rehiring thousands of Canadians as they look to restart their production. By our count, CEWS has been a massive success. This does not mean, however, that the program is without flaws. There are two big challenges that our members have noted, which I want to raise.
First, companies who sell to interrelated parties—such as a subsidiary selling to a parent company—and second, companies who acquired a second company are restricted from using the program. We are working with finance officials on these restrictions and hope a solution will come soon.
Outside of existing program challenges, it is important to note how eager companies are to get off the subsidy program and return to normal operations. Many companies are planning for an exit from the support as soon as the original June program elimination date is reached. Those companies should be applauded. Unfortunately, many other companies will be reliant on the program beyond this date due to depressed economic conditions.
The extension of the program to the end of August was welcome news, but more will need to be done. It is likely that the program will need to be extended beyond this date; however, this time there should be a timed and revenue-based phase-out plan included. More specifically, we believe that the program should be extended to January 2021; the amount of the subsidy should be reduced in lockstep with an expected improvement in company revenues; and the government should lower the revenue-loss threshold for qualification from the current 30% back toward the original 15% before it is eliminated altogether. This extended and smoother transition would allow companies time to adjust and would not push them off a revenue-support cliff thereby potentially causing them and their employees further harm.
There are two other areas I'll mention before closing: the need for additional support for industry in dealing with the new health and safety guidelines, and the importance of skills development as part of a manufacturing strategy.
First, as industry begins to fully ramp up production, there are significant additional costs that will be borne by companies, yet revenues and output will not match historical norms. Companies will be investing in training staff in operational requirements, providing PPE in much greater quantities to staff and installing protective barriers and other physical distancing tools. Government should introduce some direct support programs to offset these costs.
Second, as governments look to answer the call to create a national industrial strategy that focuses on growth, investment and innovation in manufacturing, a critical component of that strategy must be human capital. While people are among Canada’s greatest assets, the lack of the right skilled workers and labour in general has become a major obstacle to the growth of our sector in Canada. The shortages are widespread across the country, across all job types and across types and sizes of companies. If companies cannot get the right skills, they cannot leverage the latest technologies, they cannot innovate and they cannot invest and grow. As part of their industrial strategy, governments need to include a skills strategy that looks to get more youth into the sector, to help companies upskill their existing workforce and to allow companies to attract the best and brightest from around the world.
Thank you again for inviting me to participate today. I look forward to the discussion.
The government has undertake some short-term measures to try to stand up domestic supply chains, leveraging investment support programs, for example, to help companies retool and scale up production of PPE, but those are really short-term measures to deal with the short-term critical nature of the supply.
There needs to be a much longer-term strategy, and this isn't an overnight thing. You've mentioned that we've been talking about this for a long time. I've been before this committee several times in several different iterations over the years talking about this as well. It's critical that we have a big industrial strategy for Canada that includes skills and a made-in-Canada component. So much of it, though, is driven by technology, as Ms. Kusie was talking about earlier, and how we can improve our domestic competitiveness to be able to manufacture for any type of crisis in the future.
If we focus just on things like not having enough N95 masks for this crisis and how we can make more of them, what happens if the next crisis isn't about N95 masks? We need to have a domestic manufacturing capability that can respond to any crisis. We need better technology, we need more investment and we need more capability. Maybe more importantly than anything else, we need to understand what we make in Canada and what those companies can do.
The problem in standing up the domestic supply chain for the PPE was two-fold. First, we don't know what our capacities and capabilities are in manufacturing in the country; no one tracks that type of thing. We know roughly how many people work in chemical manufacturing or auto manufacturing, but knowing what type of chemicals and what they could be transitioned into is very different from knowing that these companies make chemicals in the first place, as an example. We need to understand that.
Second, we need to have much stronger procurement rules both in terms of buy Canada so that we're supporting domestic production and innovation, and second, that it be centralized and coordinated so that a company isn't supplying a local hospital if it is supplying, say, a regional, national or provincial health care network.
I apologize; it was hard to hear everything that was coming through. I will do my best to answer your question.
I think what I understand from the question, though, is what type of transition do we need? How do we look longer term if we're not expecting a full recovery—economic recovery, manufacturing recovery—for almost two years? What do we need to do?
We really do need a multi-staged approach. The approach to date has been about immediate crisis containment to make sure that we have an economy to go back to after this is over and when things restart. Whether that's being able to go out to lunch at a restaurant or it's manufacturing or something like that, we need that baseline industry there, and the response has been about that.
The second phase, though, really needs to be how we start to get recovery. A big part of the immediate recovery will be about boosting consumer spending. Consumers account for 60% of the domestic economy. If they're not spending money because they're uncertain about their economic future, or they're unwilling to go out of their houses because they're afraid they're going to get sick, that's a huge problem. We need to think about those kinds of medium-term transitions.
In the the slightly longer term, we're calling on governments to look at actions that will support longer-term economic growth, like infrastructure spending, for example. That will not only boost short-term demand for products, but also longer-term growth in the economy. Trade infrastructure is a great example. Our ports, rail lines and pipelines are clogged, and we can't get goods to market or into the country in a lot of cases to feed manufacturing. Those things will be important medium-term actions.
In the longer term is where you need to have the bigger industrial strategy. That's going to look at how we can leverage technology, for example, to reshape industry and society to take advantage of all the opportunities.
I know we're really running out of time here, but the hats off to the companies themselves. As soon as the call went out from the and premiers right across the country, our members flooded us with calls on how they could get involved, what they could do. A lot of them weren't asking for money; they weren't asking for anything. They just immediately switched for one reason: It was Canada; Canada and the health care workers needed it.
I talked to companies from coast to coast that weren't looking for contracts; they weren't looking for nothing other than to give their capabilities, their expertise and their support to their communities. That was it. Thousands of companies from across the country did this.
Interestingly, though, the frustration has been and continues to be that in some cases they switched over and these things.... I was talking to a company today in Ontario that made shields. They have thousands—I think he told me 10,000 of them—sitting in their factory that they can't get rid of because they can't get Health Canada clearance, even though they were promised it would be done rapidly. These have been sitting there for weeks.
It hasn't been as smooth as we wanted, but the companies stood up and still fought through all the barriers they faced. With a lot of it, they're just giving it away. They're giving it to local hospitals and health care workers, and first responders such as police and others.
It's been an amazing response. I think Canada should be very proud of this sector and what we've done.
The other thing I'll say—because it's my last comment, Chair—is thank you, all of you. All parties have stepped up. You've listened to the support that we've asked for. Frankly, across the board, from all political stripes, from all governments, you've done a terrific job. Thank you for everything you've done as well.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, vice-chairs and committee members. It's a pleasure to be here before you this evening.
My name is Leah Nord, and I am the senior director of workforce strategies and inclusive growth at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, working in the areas of skills, the future of work, immigration, employment standards and practices, diversity and inclusion. My comments today will focus on these areas within my portfolio, with reference to not only the crisis period but also the reopening, recovery and return to the new normal that is happening with different timing and stages across the country.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce is the voice of Canadian business. We represent 200,000 businesses across the country, across sectors and across sizes. Our network consists of 450 chambers of commerce and boards of trade, alongside over 400 corporate members and an equal number of association members. We believe that one of the most impressive aspects of the response to the crisis, and what will hopefully be one of its most significant legacies, is the team Canada approach that has been taken.
The centrepiece of the Chamber of Commerce's response during this crisis has been the Canadian Business Resilience Network. It is supported by government in partnership with our network and members, as well as our partner business associations. This inclusive and bilingual campaign, including a microsite, has proven to been a successful, centralized and authoritative source of information, best practices, tool kits and thought exchange that have allowed and will continue to allow businesses to prepare, persevere and eventually prosper.
Looking more specifically to the labour force, to state the obvious, the crisis has had a detrimental effect on Canada's workforce. Through the April 2020 Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Statistics Canada Canadian survey on business conditions, we know that Canadian businesses have undertaken many efforts to support their employees through the crisis and to keep them connected to the labour force.
Innovations include remote work, e-commerce and work sharing. Nonetheless, we also learned through the survey that 40% of businesses had laid off staff and 38% of them had reduced staff hours or shifts. Stats Canada will be back in the field next week with the second round of the survey. We look forward to gaining further insights and seeing if and how attitudes and practices have shifted as the crisis has continued.
Further, a March and April 2020 labour force data survey indicates that since the start of the crisis three million Canadians have lost their jobs—90% of them temporarily—and more than eight million have applied for the Canada emergency response benefit and Canada emergency student benefit.
Not surprisingly, in the initial phase of the crisis the most significant job losses were in accommodation and food service industries. Initially, populations most affected in the first phase included youth, women and those working in less secure lower-quality jobs. Goods-producing sectors were most affected in April, particularly manufacturing and construction.
Sectors including tourism, wholesale and retail trade, education and recreation have also experienced employment declines of up to 35%. The crisis has also compounded preceding downturns in sectors such as oil and gas and forestry, and pivots in sectors such as manufacturing and mining. It has also highlighted the needs in transport and warehousing, health human resources and food retail, underscoring the importance of the country's essential workers.
As I turn my comments to the reopening and recovery periods, I will underscore that many businesses across the country, across sectors and across sizes are still very much in crisis mode. For example, Monday is June 1 and even in light of recent announcements such as the one on Canada emergency commercial rent assistance for small businesses, many members are wondering if and how they are going to make the rent this coming month.
Specific to the reopening period, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce has developed a series of recommendations, including on the importance of leaning on international best practices and ensuring interprovincial alignment. We also believe that although emergency temporary financial support programs have been needed, and in fact have been crucial to help some companies and individuals stay afloat through the pandemic, there is also a longer-term need to ensure sustainable public finances.
We also appreciate that there continue to be more questions than answers right now. The crisis has shown us that the best public policy is made when it widely draws upon the advice of civil society, including businesses both large and small across sectors. The conversations need to start now in a structured manner to ensure that governments at all levels are receiving the best possible advice to minimize unintended consequences.
An excellent example of this is the creation and composition of the federal government's COVID-19 supply council, which includes representatives from business, labour, many sectors and non-profits, and the voices of academics, women and aboriginal business.
As we look further to recovery and a return to the new normal we need to get Canadians back to work. Canada's workforce will simply not be the same as we move into recovery. In the span of a few short months, we went from one of the tightest job markets in recent history to unprecedented job losses. Unemployment may not return to pre-crisis levels at any point soon. Available jobs and skills required will shift. Employers may increasingly look to automation to maintain operations during future crises and reduce risk.
Canadians will need reskilling, upskilling and skills training programs to get them back to work. Education and training will also change, including more online and hybrid learning, an importance on durable skills, and a focus on both work-integrated learning and lifelong learning. Ensuring that all Canadians have opportunities to participate in the recovery will be essential for inclusive growth and widespread job creation.
With this the Canadian Chamber of Commerce has three main recommendations.
First is to ensure inclusive growth in the recovery period. In the first instance, this means inclusive voices need to be represented at public policy and discussion forums. I gave the example of the federal government's COVID-19 supply council. This must be replicated at all tables and levels of government, as well as in boardrooms and leadership meetings, at labour and union tables, in occupational health and safety committees, and in business operations and return-to-work discussions.
Second, Canada needs a comprehensive review of the employment insurance program. In prefacing this recommendation, I would like to say two things: First, this is a long-standing recommendation of the Canadian chamber, and we have any number of policy resolutions over the years on this issue; and second, with this recommendation we are not diminishing the incredible work of the federal public service in response to the crisis in developing and implementing programs such as the Canada emergency wage benefit, the Canada emergency relief benefit and the Canada emergency student benefit. Quite the opposite, they all deserve widespread praise.
However, we believe it is telling that these programs were necessarily situated outside the EI program framework. Moving forward, we need to identify the reform needed to build a system that can respond to current and future workforce needs to ensure Canadians remain connected to the labour force, and that includes strong upskilling and reskilling training components.
Our third recommendation to get Canadians back to work is to use local labour market information and real-time data to develop labour market solutions created by business for business, led by sectors for sectors and tailored by communities for communities. In doing so we advocate the use of chambers of commerce and boards of trade as local hubs for employer collaboratives that can provide facilitated time and space for businesses to share, collaborate and plan.
These are unprecedented times and there is no playbook to turn to. Policy and programming recommendations for recovery at this point are conjecture at best. There needs to be a thoughtful, inclusive and measured approach to the response. This is exactly what the Canadian chamber's proposal, called the “Talent Pipeline Management: A Canadian Economic Resiliency Program”is designed to do.
Just briefly, because I am aware of the time, this is a program that prioritizes the alignment among education, training, support and workforce systems. It is a program that has been implemented by our colleagues in the U.S. across 33 states. It has taken place at the state level, as well as the regional level; large cities and smaller rural towns have been involved. It has even been used by individual companies in their internal business practices. It has involved the creation of employer collaboratives in a wide range of sectors, including hospitals, health care, construction, manufacturing, utilities, education, cybersecurity, fintech and IT. It has also been used to form collaboratives organized along supply chains, and it has proven to be self-sustaining after initial seed funding.
During the crisis, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has been infusing its academy curriculum with a recovery focus and using its national learning network to share challenges, solutions and best practices. There has been success in retaining workers in sectors, keeping them tied to their sectors, as well as identifying workers' crosswalks, upskilling, reskilling and career pathways.
The overarching benefit of this is that it allows for managing and mitigating both major expansions and contractions in the economy and the workforce, it builds resiliency and it future-proofs workforce planning.
With that, I'll thank the committee members for the opportunity to appear today and look forward to answering any questions.
Good evening, Chair and members of the committee. Thank you for the opportunity to address this committee and the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
My name is Robert Kucheran. I'm the chairperson of Canada's Building Trades Unions, an organization representing 14 international unions that represent over half a million highly skilled and highly trained workers in the construction, maintenance and fabrication industries in Canada.
Our more than 500,000 men and women are employed in constructing everything from a garden shed through to the largest megaprojects in Canada. We have members employed at virtually every refinery, pulp and paper mill, potash facility, generating station and nuclear plant, and in commercial and institutional construction that includes roads, bridges, overpasses, hospitals and all forms of civic infrastructure. The construction and maintenance sector annually represents approximately 14% of Canada’s GDP.
Our work is done not just on the job site but also in a number of facilities and fabrication shops that are incorporated into the structures we work on and, once structures are built, we are often later employed in their operation, renovation, maintenance and repurposing.
We are the single largest trainer of apprentices in Canada. Each year, we invest over $300 million of our own funds across our 175 training centres to ensure our members are the safest, most skilled and highly qualified in the industry. We work closely with our employer partners to try to ensure that Canada has a future supply of highly skilled and well-trained tradespeople through our training centres, which can be found in every province and region in Canada with the exception of Quebec, which has its own unique system, as we all know. This system allows us and our contractor partners to meet the demands for skilled trade workers for today and tomorrow.
Today, Canada is facing unprecedented health, social and economic challenges. With construction being deemed essential in most provinces, CBTU members continue to build the critical infrastructure necessary to keep Canadians safe and healthy during this pandemic, but like it was for many Canadians, some of our members’ jobs were impacted by the crisis, and they continue to be as we move forward.
I want to thank the government for their responsiveness to this pandemic, not only through the various ministries regularly updating and staying in contact with us, but through their work on programs, including CERB and CEWS. The government’s swift response, as well as their commitment to continue to modify and adjust these benefits as needed, has helped to ensure our members and Canadians do not fall through the cracks.
While there are still improvements that can be made to these programs, such as including allowing unions to utilize their existing supplemental unemployment benefit, or SUB funds, to top up members' wages when they're collecting the CERB, we appreciate what has been done to date.
When the pandemic reared its head, the organized construction industry was swift to respond with a number of safety protocols on job sites, including increased hand-washing stations, the sanitation of sites, trailers and common touch areas, physical distancing, and proper PPE being made available and its use being enforced.
Through continued open communication with our employer partners, health and safety representatives and members, we have been able to quickly address any issues that have arisen. It is because of this that the numbers of cases on our job sites are minimal. We are proud of the responses of our industry, because our members' health and safety have always been our utmost priority. The unionized construction sector could be used as a model for other sectors.
That said, our sector has always been a leader, given the nature of our work, in ensuring our members have a safe work environment and proper protocols in place, have training to identify potential dangers on their jobs and, of course, have the proper PPE. The need for a greater availability of PPE to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 remains important. We urge the government to continue to do what it can to obtain sources of supply to ensure the construction sector can continue to operate in a safe manner.
Looking forward, as Canada comes out of the pandemic and the federal government considers an economic recovery plan, I want to remind the committee that the construction sector plays an integral role in advancing the economy and, historically, we have seen this trend help us emerge from recessions and even the Great Depression itself.
As the government stimulates the economy through infrastructure, we must recognize and be cognizant of the money spent and where and how it will be deployed in communities across Canada. Specifically, we have the opportunity to utilize our highly skilled, trained and mobile workforce to help build a stronger and more resilient Canada as we recover from this COVID-19 crisis.
We have submitted to the government a list of large, shovel-ready and shovel-worthy projects that could put people to work and create training opportunities for underemployed, unemployed and under-represented Canadians. The federal government has an opportunity to take a leadership role in investing and securing Canada's critical infrastructure, both in the short term to get people back to work and bolster the economy, and in the long term as an economic catalyst to build the Canada we all want for future generations.
The federal government could show leadership by incorporating community benefit agreements, CBAs, not only through the thought process but more importantly through acting upon its federally funded projects. CBAs support the hiring and training of local workers and under-represented groups, including women and indigenous people. They often contain provisions that enable apprenticeships, guarantee prevailing wages and establish grounds for workplace development initiatives to provide funding and economic support for impacted communities, utilize local suppliers and manufacturers, and set forth training for minority, women and local hiring.
In the provinces where CBA has been enacted, we see, for example, that the number of women entering apprenticeships and completing their apprenticeship certification is significantly increased. For example, in Newfoundland, where a number of CBAs were utilized on major construction projects, women now count for 14% of the construction workforce. This is compared with roughly 2% to 4% across the rest of the country.
When considering post-pandemic recovery, investing in local communities will lift all Canadians up. We can do that through training and skills development by providing support and assistance to organizations as well as on projects to help train Canada's future workforce through the apprenticeship system.
Over the next 10 years, at least 21% of all the current workforce will retire. The ability to fill this gap and meet the demand depends on the availability of workers with the portable experience, skills and qualifications in their trades. The infrastructure for providing training exists in Canada through many training centres provided by our affiliates, but without ongoing support from the government and our employers, our industry suffers.
Historically, the larger the construction project, the more opportunity for apprentices to learn their crafts and obtain the hours to become journey people. A focus on apprenticeships and requiring apprenticeships on site on any infrastructure investment is key to building Canada's future workforce.
In conclusion, on behalf of the CBTU, our 14 affiliates and over half a million members, I want to thank the government for their quick response during these unprecedented times. As the government looks past the pandemic and looks towards economic recovery, we ask the government to help ensure that Canadian tradespeople are able to work in a safe environment according to the guidelines from applicable governments and health authorities, which will require the continued sourcing of PPE and enforcement of safety procedures and protocols.
The government must ensure that any economic recovery plan includes investing in all Canadians. This could be achieved through investing in major infrastructure projects that support Canadian tradespeople in the communities they live in by instituting community benefit agreements. This in turn will help lift all Canadians up and continue to build a better and stronger Canada.
I want to thank you, Chair and committee members, for allowing me to appear before this committee. I look forward to any questions you might have for me.
That was just issued this week, as I referred to, so thank you for that question.
We had done the Canadian survey on business conditions and we were able to slice and dice the data in any number of ways, including by sector. We also sliced it by who owns the business. The retail sector, as I said in my comments, was hit hard, fast and first.
A lot of businesses and employees, including business owners of businesses that are female-owned, were hit hard in that initial stage because of the composition of the retail sector. Historically, in previous recessions, what you'll see is first sector in, first sector out, or first sector back in. We don't believe that is going to happen with a lot of these.
In the first instance, it's something that I alluded to before. It's inclusive growth and having those inclusive voices at the table. If retail isn't at these tables and these discussions, then it can't be part of the solution. We have a consortium of six business associations, and the Retail Council of Canada is one.
I think we also have to look at how to drive consumer spending and economic development. I heard from the previous session the idea that we can't tax ourselves out of this, that we have to grow, and there's any number of ways that we can do that, including getting people back into the workforce so that they have income to spend.