Canada was lucky to ride out the impact of the global financial crisis of the past decade relatively unscathed. Compared with many other leading economies our recession period was shorter and shallower with a strong bounce back. Yet the impact on unemployment figures has lasted, and job growth hasn’t recovered. This has led to continued unemployment and people in transition for a greater length of time.
Engineering jobs weren’t impervious to this impact. Although Canada has one of the most diverse economies in the world, it’s still reliant on the service sector for around three-quarters of its economic stability. But September 2014 saw a big lift in the Canadian workforce and demand beginning to pick for quality, full-time jobs. These jobs, of course, included those in the engineering sector.
The Association of Consulting Engineering Companies | Canada (ACEC) talked about the marketplace changes brought about by the recession in their 2010 summit and 2013 action on Parliament Hill Day. They focused on the benefits of infrastructure investment by the government. They also talked to the need to establish medium and long-term plans for the development of the parts of the economy dependent on primary and secondary industries that co-create and develop engineering jobs. This starts to give us an idea where the future talent needs in the engineering sector are for Canada, and hints at the challenges.
A Two-Pronged Talent Divide
When the Conference Board of Canada released its Summer 2014 economic outlook it predicted a lift in investment for engineering as a ripple effect from renewed investment in these primary and secondary industries. 2015 looks like more money will be entering the talent development pool, or at least the incentives that attract into the arena.
But this good news is tempered by details on the challenges identified by the October 2012 Engineers Canada report on 2020 potential for the profession in Canada. This clearly shows the East – West talent divide in the country.
Demand is outstripping supply in the West and the only way it can be met is through immigration. Even for jobs new and recent graduates are filling, the eastern provinces produce and the western provinces consume the talent.
Much of the Canadian engineering talent gap is rooted in experience. The age profile employers seek means new entrants to the field do not have the 10+ years of experience desired for the gaps forming from the older generation’s retirement.
So what does this say about the talent equation for engineering in Canada?
There are many gaps in the marketplace, but rather than them being specific to an engineering field, they are more about experience and geographical profiles. If Canada is attempting to close the gap on this equation, it is doing so by increasing the talent pool through immigration. But we need to increase mobility of internal talent and develop opportunities that are accessible without the need for permanent local presence.
For example, there has to be a way for an Ontario graduate in electrical engineering to work for an Alberta company that needs their capabilities. Perhaps assisted relocations, opportunities for limited remote working or virtual working is the answer. I’m not sure about the appetite for those options but at least they are possible.
My struggle is to suggest how the talent need is being met to address the experience gap. Maybe we have to say 5 years is the new 10, or 2 years the new 5 and reposition our own expectations when seeking talent. Our retiring engineers were, at one time, fresh-faced new kids in the market learning on the job and making mistakes. Perhaps our challenge is not about the talent but our expectations. If we learn to manage our own expectations, then maybe we can begin to bridge the experience gap more readily from the Canadian engineering pool.
What do you think?
How should Canada address its fast-retiring engineering workforce and looming shortage of engineers? What is your company doing to recruit and develop the talent you need?
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