Madam Speaker, thanks to the efforts of the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, our government has significantly boosted federal support to provinces and territories, by $2.7 billion over six years. This is to help more unemployed and under-employed Canadians access the training and employment supports they need to find and keep good jobs. We have also invested $225 million over four years to identify and fill skills gaps in the economy to help Canadians be best prepared for the new economy.
However, we cannot do it alone. We have worked with our partners to bring forward federal support. It is critical that our working relationship continues well into the future.
Although we have momentum to build on, we, as a government and as a country, must continue to listen. We must be engaged with our partners, employees and employers to best understand their unique needs. By engaging with and encouraging people to tell their stories, we promote understanding and create the framework we can use to work toward our common goals.
As one of our partners put it, “Nothing about us without us”. Thankfully, employers and employees alike see the value in working together.
Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress and one of our many partners, said, “ Workers need to retool and upgrade their skills in order to be successful and to succeed in Canada's rapidly changing labour market, but far too often, they're not getting the support they need. Today Canada's public spending on training is about half the OECD average, and in real terms, employers invest less in per-employee training and adult learning than they did 25 years ago. Too many employers simply do not invest in on-the-job training and vocational education for workers, and it is holding us back.
“Employers need a new generation of skilled workers to replace retiring baby boomers, and workers need access to skills training as well as upgrading to cope with the technological change and the impact of climate change policies. We can overcome the skills shortages, but we need to listen to stakeholders and learn what works in other jurisdictions.”
Support for this motion and the creation of a federal trade strategy is wide-ranging and spans industries.
Arlene Dunn, of Canada's Building Trades Unions, said, “It is absolutely crucial that the Government of Canada instruct the appropriate body and include the appropriate stakeholders to undertake a study of the creation of a federal trades strategy to ensure Canada remains both nationally and globally competitive and well prepared for the future while utilizing all resources available.”
However, a federal trades strategy does not help where demand outpaces the supply of workers. For example, Canada's marine industry is thriving, and in Niagara, home of the Welland Canal within the St. Lawrence Seaway system on the Great Lakes, there are more applicants than jobs, yet there are struggles with access to the necessary training to open opportunities to new workers.
Jim Given, president of the Seafarers' International Union of Canada, said, “Though we have seen a surplus of applications for Canadians and permanent residents interested in joining the industry, continued access to proper training, funding for education and providing upgrading opportunities for current seafarers is essential.
“In having government work with labour organizations to identify current labour and skills gaps, we can together ensure that the future needs of our country's marine transportation industry are met and that these good-paying middle-class jobs are made available to Canadians both entering the labour market as well as those looking to transfer current skills to this growing industry.
“We are encouraged to see this government take the necessary steps to undertake a study to identify labour shortages in the industry with a view to developing and creating a federal trades strategy that will, among other things, assist our industry to ensure our mariners have access to the resources necessary to retain and improve the skill sets needed for the industry as well as to recruit and train the next generation of seafarers.”
There is, however, one aspect of partnerships that we have yet to discuss, and that is the how. While it is certainly critical to identify skills gaps and the need to train new workers, we also need to consider how we will accomplish this. In one sense, the answer is deceptively simple: Invite our partners, our high schools, our post-secondary institutions, the private sector, the unions and all levels of government to the table.
During my former life as a mayor, we worked with our partners as just described, and we were successful in putting in place a program that brought students together, beginning at the secondary school level, into the skilled trades.
Today, we continue to work with our partners to further the interests of employers as well as employees. Dialogue has begun to contribute to the context of what a federal skilled trades strategy will look like and what we would like to work toward. For example, through consistent dialogue with our partners, we have heard, loud and clear, and recognize that balancing parental roles and work life in the construction industry is critical, as is balancing multiple priorities, making trade-off decisions and placing high value on tradespeople who are in fact raising families.
Retirements and an aging population are beginning to have an impact on the future of our industries. Knowledge and technical transfer to strategically support the processes to innovate and adapt to changing environmental, safety, production and market conditions are factors that must be a priority.
Unions have taken leadership roles in the work of skilled trades promotion and advocacy. Many of them have hired in-house rank and file member expertise whose jobs it is to focus entirely on the promotion of their trade and raising its public profile.
We need to work with them to do more education, educating young people about the opportunity to access well-paid, in-demand, highly valuable training, and teaching them about the economics associated with belonging to the skilled, organized trades, such as the exemplary pensions included, as well as health and welfare benefits and the ability to obtain a rewarding career.
If we are going to succeed in making a real tangible difference for under-represented groups, we must in fact advocate for the implementation of strategic tools that build community wealth and human capacity, which is beneficial for under-represented groups, veterans and persons with disabilities, offering them tremendous opportunities that unfortunately might not exist otherwise. In doing so, we create the opportunity to learn from experts in education, as well as training, and identify existing programs that can be adapted or changed to meet local and national industry needs, as well as attaching safety training at a younger age to ensure safer working environments.
In Niagara, we are extremely fortunate and proud to have Niagara College and Brock University working to this end. As good corporate citizens, responsible neighbours and community leaders, these institutions do an amazing job of not only providing education but also understanding the unique needs of the community they serve.
A common thread for Niagara College and Brock University are well-developed, tried-and-true, co-operative education programs through which students learn in a hands-on environment taught by industry experts. Applying classroom knowledge to real world, on-the-job experiences better prepares students to be successful in the workforce. Consequently, employers are more confident that their needs can be met and spend less money retraining or compensating for a lack of skilled workers.
Secondary schools can also be a big part of this equation. Through programs such as the specialist high skills major program, which is part of the Ministry of Education's student success initiative in the province of Ontario, dual credit and co-op program students are better prepared to transition successfully into the workforce, whereby co-op programs at the secondary school level can begin.
Mark Cherney, business manager of the IBEW Local 303 and president of the Niagara and Haldimand Building Trades Council, tells us, “Shortages in the skilled trades are a genuine concern. With a national strategic skilled trades plan, we could better predict where and when these shortfalls will occur and how labour mobility from across the country can serve to mitigate shortages. A study on how labour mobility strategies can be explored, as well as attracting and retaining more women, indigenous people, youth and new Canadians to a career path in the skilled trades, is needed. The current government has done a great job investing in the skilled trades. Now is the time for the next step, and that is for a national strategy.”
In summary, Mark Cherney says, “A unified national Red Seal standard for compulsory skilled trades will go a long way to tackle the concerns of skills shortages."
It has been a great pleasure this evening to present this motion to my colleagues in the House. I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish by working together to find solutions to such challenges.