Addressing today’s labour market challenges is a huge task. There are several employment challenges, especially for youth, in a changing economy. On the other hand, being on the inverse side of the equation is also tough. Employers are currently trying to keep up with all the metamorphosis in the labour market that now presents a very different scenario from years ago. This week, Milénio Stadium interviewed Kwok Wong, spokesperson for the Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, in collaboration with the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.
Milénio Stadium: What developments and changes have we seen in the job market for a few years now?
Kwok Wong: Recently, Ontario’s Q2 employment report showed an increase of 202,900 jobs year-over-year, the majority of which are full-time, private sector jobs. In 2019 alone, actions taken by the government are saving businesses $5 billion, including cancellation of the cap-and-trade carbon tax, maintaining the minimum wage at $14 an hour, reduced WSIB premiums and the Job Creation Investment Incentive. These actions are sending the message to job creators around the world that Ontario is open for business and open for jobs.
MS: In a time of fast evolutions in automation and artificial intelligence, what can we expect from the future job market scenario? What are the trends?
KW: Ontario continues to monitor the impact of these technologies but is well-positioned to support future innovation. Our government continues to work with the tech sector to create the conditions that will allow companies to scale, grow and create jobs. Behind California, Ontario has the second-largest concentration of tech companies in North America – more than 200 companies including GM, Ford, Magna, Uber, NVIDIA and BlackBerry QNX are developing connected and autonomous vehicle technologies here. Ontario ranks fifth in North America by number of employees in the information and communications technology sector.
MS: What kind of skills will be most required from future professionals?
KW: Postsecondary education is a critical part of preparing Ontario students for the future, especially in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Also, Ontario’s Skilled Trades are vital to the health and growth of the economy, offering careers that lead to secure jobs and a good quality of life. There are tremendous and vibrant opportunities available in the skilled trades in Ontario, with one in five new jobs expected to be in trades-related occupations by 2021. Our government will work with all our colleges, universities and our skills training providers to create the conditions that make it easier for people to access a high-quality education to hone their skills for the jobs of today and tomorrow. To help postsecondary students, apprentices and recent graduates develop their workplace skills, we have funded over 100,000 new experiential learning opportunities that provide practical hands-on training to help participants make the transition from school to the workplace. We also want to build an economy that gives Ontarians the opportunity to find a job in their home communities, start a business or grow a business in Ontario.
MS: Competition for jobs has increased sharply, requiring higher competencies and qualifications. However, we have many young people finishing college or university and they often have difficulties finding a job. Why is this phenomenon happening? Is the job market over its capacity?
KW: Students and their families make great sacrifices to attend university and college. They make those sacrifices because for years they have been told that if they worked hard and invested in a university or college credential, they would find a high-quality job. That is increasingly not the case. Students and their families know that many young people are graduating with postsecondary credentials but are un-employed or under-employed. Meanwhile, businesses cannot find young people with the skills they need. We are embracing changes in our post-secondary education sector that are modern, forward thinking, and will lead to good jobs. That is why we are shifting funding for universities and colleges to be more dependent on student and economic outcomes that reflect our priority of making Ontario Open for Business.
MS: Being an employer is also a tough position. What are the major challenges that employers are currently facing?
KW: For years, companies have been telling the government about the high cost of doing business in Ontario — and that a big part of this problem is red tape. The government has made it clear that Ontario needs to be more competitive by eliminating unnecessary regulations, while maintaining other regulations needed to keep people safe and healthy. All too often, businesses are required to spend time and money dealing with red tape instead of growing their businesses. That’s why we’re working to make Ontario a better place to do business by lowering business costs and cutting red tape. We are also aware that businesses in Ontario can face challenges filling their skilled labour force needs. Employers have told us that filling specific skilled positions and retaining workers can be a challenge in smaller and rural communities.
MS: What measures need to be taken to mitigate these challenges?
KW: We’ve already taken some great strides in developing modern and efficient business regulations. The legislature has passed two red tape bills that have reduced regulatory burdens in 12 specific sectors – and right across the economy. And this fall, the ministry plans to introduce more legislative measures to further cut red tape. The ministry is working to lower business costs to make Ontario more competitive and to spur more investment in order to build our economy and create good jobs. We’re working to make things easier and remove regulatory overlap, and we’re developing regulations that are more focused and streamlined. In order to address skilled labour force needs, the ministry administers the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP) through which Ontario nominates people for permanent residence who have the skills and education needed to contribute to, and succeed in, the province’s labour market. This government has listened to employers and communities across the province about their skilled labour needs. In response, we have improved the OINP by making it easier for international entrepreneurs to start a new or buy an existing business in Ontario and by expanding the list of eligible occupations to include truckers and personal support workers to address known labour shortages. Through a new OINP opportunity, in collaboration with industry, we have also identified and are targeting people with the technological skills needed to make Ontario’s ICT sector even more successful. In addition, to spread the benefits of immigration to smaller communities, the ministry is engaging with community stakeholders to explore innovative approaches to bring highly skilled immigrants to fill labour gaps in smaller communities. More information can be found at Ontario.ca/OINP. We are also committed to making sure job seekers can connect with opportunities to find and keep good jobs, employers can hire the skilled workers they need to thrive. We are doing this by equipping more people with the skills needed to get quality jobs through experiential learning, apprenticeships, transforming employment and training services to improve labour market outcomes for job seekers – while reducing administrative burden on employers. Employment Ontario programs connect employers, communities, incumbent workers, and job seekers to meet the demands of evolving economic changes, addressing their company-specific and local labour market needs. Our government is committed to assisting employers in recruiting the skilled workers they need to build the skilled workforce that keeps Ontario open for business and open for jobs.