What Every Recruiter Should Know About the Skilled Trades Labour Shortage

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If there is one issue recruiters and staffing agencies should be paying attention to right now, it’s the labour shortage in the skilled trades. In industries that employ skilled workers, employers are seeing unprecedented job vacancy levels—and the trend is expected to continue. Over the next decade, the employment gap will be the greatest challenge faced by sectors of the economy that rely on skilled workers to meet their labour needs.

Problems resulting from the labour shortage have already begun. For recruiters, the issue is affecting staffing across a range of fields, from construction and manufacturing to mining and oil and gas. As skilled workers become more challenging to find and hire, the role of recruiters and staffing agencies will become more valuable than ever before.

What is causing the skilled labour shortage?

The skilled labour shortage is the result of a combination of demographic changes and pipeline issues, both of which were accelerated by effects from the pandemic.

Demographic changes

The primary cause of the labour shortage is the aging workforce. Baby boomers, who once made up a significant portion of skilled workers, are retiring in large numbers, leaving a pronounced gap in the workforce. According to a report released in 2022 by Employment and Social Development Canada, 700,000 skilled trades workers will retire by 2028, causing an unprecedented worker shortage.

Pipeline issues

Compounding the issues caused by the retiring workforce, the skilled trades are also suffering from a shrinking pipeline of new workers. To meet the shortfall, Canada will need to recruit skilled labour from outside the country and funnel more students into apprenticeships straight from high school.

Unfortunately, the pathway from high school to the trades is not as well-defined as it was in the past. A lack of awareness around the benefits of working in the skilled trades and a teacher shortage at the high school level—the time when students typically get exposed to career possibilities—are thought to be causing a decrease in the popularity of such fields.

A report from the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum also points out that systemic issues such as outdated biases, stereotypes around skilled work, and a lack of recruitment from underrepresented groups are also contributing to the shortage of new apprentices.

Pandemic challenges

While the federal and provincial governments are rapidly implementing programs to train a new generation of workers, such programs were largely put on hold in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. The additional delay impacted the pipeline of new workers, and apprenticeships and trade certifications have yet to catch up to pre-COVID-19 levels. Work stoppages during the pandemic also led many older workers to take early retirement, accelerating the demographic shift and its resulting issues.

What is the role of recruiters in addressing the labour shortage?

Recruiters play a critical role in addressing the labour shortage in the skilled trades. To effectively increase recruitment, staffing professionals should be aware of the challenges that contribute to the labour shortage and be prepared to adapt their hiring strategies accordingly. These are some of the top issues recruiters and staffing agencies should be considering as they make the shift.

The labour market

Recruiters should be aware of the labour market conditions in their industry and region. This includes understanding the current demand for skilled trades workers, the competition for talent, and the demographics of the available workforce.

Targeted recruitment strategies

Given the shortage of skilled trades workers, recruiters should focus on targeted recruitment strategies. This may include developing relationships with trade schools, technical colleges, and vocational schools to recruit new talent. It may also include reaching out to veterans, women, and other underrepresented groups to increase diversity in the workforce.

Competitive compensation

To attract skilled trades workers, recruiters should offer competitive compensation packages that reflect the value of the work being done. This may include offering higher salaries, benefits, and opportunities for advancement.

Career development

Skilled trades workers obtain unique skills and experiences that can be difficult to find in other industries. Recruiters should emphasize the potential for career development and the opportunities for on-the-job training, apprenticeships, and mentorship.

Positive company culture

Finally, recruiters should emphasize and reinforce the positive culture that values skilled workers and provides a supportive work environment. This may include highlighting the importance of safety, providing opportunities for employee feedback and input, and promoting work-life balance.

The bottom line

If you work in staffing or managing skilled workers, the ongoing labour shortage is likely to be the defining issue for your work over the next decade. It’s critical to understand the causes underlying it, including the demographic changes and pipeline issues that affect the supply of workers.

It’s also vital to understand how you can anticipate and pre-empt problems caused by the shortage by adapting your recruitment strategy. Staffing professionals should work to understand the labour conditions in their industry and region, employ targeted recruitment strategies, ensure competitive compensation, and offer career development and positive company culture to candidates. In the increasingly competitive market for labour, everything you can do to attract new workers will make a difference.

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