What is Canada doing about its labor shortage?


  • British Columbia, Canada, has 60,000 jobs going unfulfilled due to a severe labor shortage. In some construction trades, 100% of companies reported they are unable to hire skilled workers.
  • The Canadian government is making changes to its Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) so that the costs for companies taking advantage of the program are smaller and the workers taking part in it can achieve permanent resident status.
  • Other solutions include paying for education and training as part of the employment agreement, improving transportation availability, and employing those with disabilities.

Like the U.S., Canada is experiencing a labor shortage, with its epicenter in British Columbia. The westernmost province has the most substantial job vacancy rate of the four hardest hit provinces. Of companies responding to a survey, almost half of them reports trouble hiring new workers. British Columbia has 60,000 unfulfilled jobs and a vacancy rate of 3.4%, with Quebec and Ontario close behind.

Certain trades are seeing as many as 100% of companies reporting an inability to find workers.

  • 100% of glaziers cannot find qualified employees.
  • 93% of pipefitters are in the same boat.
  • 91% of sheet metal companies cannot find labor.
  • 89% of electricians and plumbers are facing a shortage of skilled labor.

According to one study, the non-residential construction sector would need to add 17,000 new workers between 2019 and 2021 to meet unprecedented demand.

What’s the Problem?

Part of this is the result of that wonderful-to-have problem: positive economic growth. Growth is great. The downside is that all the skilled employees in such an economy are spoiled for choice when seeking work. The better the economy gets, the more jobs there are available—and that need to be filled by the same amount of workers (or in this case, fewer).

Living in British Columbia isn’t cheap. Vancouver has the lowest unemployment rate of any major Canadian city (4.5%), but housing prices are rising with demand. Lower-paid workers simply can’t afford to live there.

Another factor is one that the rest of the developed world faces as well: an aging workforce that is retiring at increasing rates. Industries that rely on physical labor, such as construction, have less luck keeping workers older than the legal retirement age. Even those who want to work are often no longer capable of performing the way they used to.

Canada is suffering from an inverted age pyramid, just as the U.S. and Europe are. The youth—for the most part—aren’t interested in construction jobs.

To make the matter worse, increased retirement numbers are not being matched by an increase in the number of young people entering the industry, either. Canada is suffering from an inverted age pyramid, just as the U.S. and Europe are. The youth—for the most part—aren’t interested in construction jobs.

Even within the industry, some trades are less sexy than others. Apparently, it’s more hip to be an electrician or plumber than a drywaller or tile-layer.

Finally, with the labor shortage comes the overwork of those remaining. Burnout is claiming a number of skilled people as well.

Canada has solutions

Canadian businesses are finding ways to fill the gap and get the worker pipeline going again. Some methods are more feasible than others for the long term.

  • Higher pay is an initial draw. However, smaller businesses cannot match high wages. Also, those earning the higher wages still feel a financial pinch as prices increase to cover their salaries.
  • The Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWD) has eliminated the rule that prohibited temporary foreign workers from reapplying for the same job or applying for another without first leaving the country.
  • An advocacy group is also asking the government to count two years’ work with any employer toward residency for foreign workers of all skill levels. The $1,000 application fee is also under review.
  • Companies are urged to find ways to employ those with disabilities. Disabled employees have a different perception of the world of work. Moreover, they have valuable input in the construction industry due to their experience navigating a world that is often not accommodating to their physical or mental needs. Finally, workforce with disabled people in it tends to be more collaborative.

There are other techniques business owners have developed for themselves in an attempt to get someone to mind the store. Many are offering to pay for education and training as part of the employment package.

The B.C. Federation of Labour president says more “training seats” need to be made available to prospective workers as well as more accessible job experience for completing apprenticeships. Transportation availability on days and times that cater to the non-9 to 5 workforce is yet another consideration.

Canada, particularly British Columbia, is going full throttle in an attempt to make up the difference between job openings and workers to fill them. After all, they have 361,700 jobs to fill, the highest number ever recorded in the country. There’s no time to waste.

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