Don Drummond may be thought of as one of Canada’s smartest economists, but he, like so many, knows “Jack” about the shortages of skilled workers in the trades.

In the Star publication, Don Drummond claims, Statistics Canada’s latest survey of job vacancies showed there were 6.3 unemployed people for every job vacancy. He claims this does not suggest a shortage of skills. It suggests an oversupply of workers.

Let’s address these one by one — otherwise he, like so many others, may not get it. Don, honey, seriously, an oversupply of workers? You may be correct, but to assume these workers have the necessary skills that we need, is to, as they say, make an ass out of you and me. We need trades professionals with the skills and knowledge to perform and meet the growing demands in building the infrastructure in this country and to create the spin-offs that come with a growing, thriving economy. So, while there may well be 6.3 unemployed people for every job vacancy, how the hell am I to put these unskilled workers on a job site and have them install the mechanical systems that provide you with the comfort you desire in your home and office?

Governments have been cracking down on trades who do not comply with the regulations that have been put in place to protect the safety and well-being of the public and you suggest that we do what, Don? Hire some of these 6.3 unemployed people and put them on the job site untrained. Thanks, but, no thanks. Oh, so you want them trained first. OK. That takes anywhere from three to five years, and prospects must enter into an apprenticeship agreement. Perhaps you have not heard of the problems we’ve been having there with regards to ratios and the inability of companies to hire new workers due to the barriers we’ve identified and have been screaming about for years.

Minimum Wages?

Don also said there are no wage spikes in the skilled trades, information technology, or scientific, professional, and technical services. If Canada had skill shortages, employers would be paying a premium for workers in those fields. Really, Don, did you say this? Where are you getting your information? For us to hire an entry-level, unskilled tradesperson, we now have to pay $16.50–$18.50 per hour. This is up from $10.50 per hour, and you want to talk about a lack of wage spikes? Think again. We also are experiencing higher levels of stress in the workforce than at any time in history. This can be seen by the increased use of drugs and the vast number of suicides that we see in the trades. I am speaking from what I have seen locally in my marketplace and by all the articles being written on stress and how to keep our employees and students safe by reducing stress levels.

I want to refer readers to an article, “Choosing College Versus Vocational School,” by Peter Powell, of The NEWS. The single greatest challenge for the trades continues to be getting our strong positive message to the masses that a career in the trades is better than and/or equivalent to a university or college degree with wages and benefits that are often even better. Enrollments at vocational colleges and technical training schools have proven that many people with university and/or college degrees have found they cannot get jobs because they have no on-the-job or hands-on skills and therefore remain unemployable. Don, check the enrollment stats at many colleges. There is also a serious disconnect with the educational system in many ways because graduating students from high school do not have the required math and English skills needed to succeed the first year of college, never mind a vocational school. I would even go further and say they lack science and physics essentials to succeed in the trades.

Communication Breakdown

Let’s also not forget the most important trait of all, client relations or soft skills training that are essential in what we do each day in the trades. A fellow industry colleague of mine, Steve Coscia, shared a document with me about training we receive in speaking, reading, writing, and listening. As it turns out, we spend about 8 percent of our time writing and get about 12 years of training; 16 percent of our time reading and get about seven years of training; 36 percent of our time we are speaking, and yet we only get about two years of training; most amazing, is that we spend about 40 percent of our time listening and receive zero training. How is it that when we all have to interact and communicate that we spend no time whatsoever ensuring that our professional workforce is trained to listen?

Trade associations, both union and non-union, all spend vast amounts of time and energy teaching client relations, customer service, interpersonal communications, etc. (soft skills) to trained skilled workers after their formal training because it’s not taught in either the education system or the formalized trades training.

These same trade associations recently published, “A Joint Statement by the Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Industry in Canada,” stating, “As a minimum, Canadians purchasing newly built homes are entitled to enforcement of government requirements with respect to the design, installation, and inspection of residential HVAC systems.” The document goes on to speak about not only the need for only certified tradespeople to perform the work, but, at all levels, the tradespeople must be certified professionals. We even make these statements in spite of the clearly identified skilled worker shortages we face because it’s what we believe. Don, this is what professional organizations and skilled tradespeople believe.

“Ottawa does not have the ability to forecast labor needs accurately. Its methods are flawed, its projections unreliable,” Drummond said. Whoa ... hold on. Don, just because you speak it doesn’t mean we all are listening, regardless of your 23 years at the federal finance department in Canada and 10 years as the chief economist for the TD bank. It simply does not matter. Why? You are out to lunch on this issue.

The Constructor Service Sector Council, the Learning Management System (LMS), and the great work that has been done by the trades over the years is not easily explained, which is maybe why Don Drummond doesn’t get it. He failed to enroll in a vocational college or trade school, taking the path through university instead. Those of us in the trades know that those who can’t make it in the trades go to university and become academics. Good to know they have a fall-back career opportunity.

Seriously Folks

We have a serious skills shortage in the trades and while I may have poked fun at Don Drummond, he, like so many, just doesn’t fully understand and appreciate the barriers and responsibilities that we in the trades carry each day. Our industries are spending considerable amounts of time and money to promote and attempt to bring about positive changes that will result in a more vibrant workforce. We want to minimize the skilled worker shortages we face. To fail to recognize the seriousness of this issue is, in one word, negligent.

I would like to end by referencing a mentorship program in Australia titled, “Rheem Apprenticeships and Youth Scheme (RAYS),” an e-mentor program designed to link plumbing and gas-fitting mentors with younger people, helping them to achieve their goals, whether those goals include finishing school, gaining an apprenticeship, or switching careers.

Don Drummond, if you’re reading this, the real story — contrary to popular belief — is not always disclosed in the numbers. I’m also hoping you are not one of the many who experience the fallout of using an unskilled worker passing himself/herself off as a skilled, professional tradesman. If you need a referral, call me. Until then, I will be installing comfort systems and teaching the next generation of skilled workers what so many of my mentors taught me throughout my 38 years in the trade to date.

Publication date: 3/17/2014 

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