Research shows that as many as 32% of unemployed Canadians are willing to super-commute or move to another province for work, he writes.
Housing. Critical minerals development. Historic investments into infrastructure. These headline-catching spending commitments are exciting, but the most important Budget Day words from Ontario’s Minister of Finance, Peter Bethlenfalvy, was a question: “Who is actually going to build all of this stuff?”
The province’s budget, which many expect will be the platform on which the Ford government seeks re-election in June, correctly identifies the single biggest obstacle to getting anything done. Our desperate need for skilled workers. Lots of them.
In 2019, Ontario’s mining operations employed more than 48,600 people full-time directly, indirectly and through induced channels. This is projected to grow to approximately 52,000 jobs by 2025. But for the past three years, Ontario’s mining industry hasn’t been able to fill jobs, with more than two-thirds of mining companies reporting significant difficulty hiring skilled labour.
Both last month’s federal budget and last week’s provincial budget made exploring and developing critical minerals a major priority. But the mining industry is competing with Ontario’s manufacturing and construction industries for skilled labourers. And both those sectors aren’t getting the workers they need either. In Q4 of 2021, more than 348,000 Ontario jobs remained vacant, according to Statistics Canada. More than 20,000 were in construction and more than 30,000 in manufacturing.
Similarly, the federal budget called for major new investments into housing, recognizing the crisis Canada has with increasingly unaffordable homes. Ontario has also recognized the need to build more homes, more than 1.5 million of them over the next ten years, and paired that in the budget with historic investments into infrastructure like highways and transit networks. These investments are the right thing for governments to be spending tax dollars on, but without the local workforce, we need to get more creative.
By 2025, Ontario estimates that the number of vacant jobs just in the skilled trades will reach 350,000. That’s about one in five jobs in Ontario. How are we going to train up a workforce the size of the entire city of Markham in three years? Ontario is on the right track with its launch of Skilled Trades Ontario; investments into breaking the stigma against skilled trades to attract young people; and removing the significant licensing barriers faced by internationally trained immigrants. But Ontario has also been taking action to make it easier for Canadians trained in other provinces to come work here. And that’s where we come in.
The reality is, Canada has a lot of the skilled workers trained up and ready to meet the growing demands, they just aren’t in the right places. In 2019, more than 12,000 skilled workers lost their jobs in Alberta, but these workers were not connected to work opportunities in Ontario that matched their unique abilities.
This kind of labour mobility — or super-commuting as some are now calling it — is nothing new. For years, thousands of workers from Canada’s Atlantic provinces, where unemployment was high, flew to northern Alberta to work in the oil sands. Recently Canada’s labour demand has shifted to Ontario’s manufacturing, construction and mining sectors. And while super-commuting may not be for everyone, our research shows that as many as 32% of unemployed Canadians are willing to super-commute or move to another province for work.
Ultimately, to get people to super commute, the conditions must be right. They need housing and transportation, and to be able to see themselves as part of the community they are super-commuting to. The government can and should do more to incentivize Canadians to move within the country to fill labour shortages. In the meantime, organizations like Blue Branch are filling in the gaps, helping to match skilled workers to jobs where labour shortages prevent growth.
As the government lines up historic investments into housing, infrastructure and natural resource development in Ontario, now is the time for innovative labour mobility solutions that match workers from Canadian regions experiencing high unemployment and underemployment to jobs in the areas with labour shortages. This is how we can keep our talent and their positive economic impact inside Canada while growing stronger communities.