Behind the Numbers – Skilled Trades Deficits in Durham Region


Labour Shortages

Labour shortages refer to a lack of candidates for a specific job in a specific labour market. In other words, a labour shortage is the excess of labour demand in relation to the supply of labour, in a given place and occupation. As defined, an “in-demand” trade is very similar to a trade facing a labour shortage but there are some subtle differences depending on the approach used. If the definition of “in-demand” trades is based on the employer survey question asking which trades are the “hardest to fill”, it is likely that labour market conditions (i.e., overall supply and demand) impact an individual employer’s hiring experiences. However, an individual employer’s answers might depart from broader underlying conditions. For example, some employers may have positions that they consider hard to fill but they are offering inadequate wages or benefits. In this example, their hiring difficulties may not reflect a shortage of labour.

Durham Region has seen a significant increase in the number of residents with a certificate, diploma or degree. While this is not a unique phenomenon given socio-economic changes and the nature of work, it does demonstrate the talent pool available to employers in Durham Region. Since 2001 the number of individuals without a certificate, diploma or degree has nearly decreased by half. As Table 5 depicts, nearly all levels of educational attainment are increasing, with the exception of those with an apprenticeship or trades certificate of diploma. This is a notable concern when considering the skilled trades shortages being expressed by employers, and skilled trades organizations.

Table 5 Educational Attainment by Percentage in Durham Region, 2001 – 2016

Source: Statistics Canada. Census. 2016.

Similar to the Ontario Construction Secretariat, BuildForce does a considerable amount of work identifying in-demand skilled trades by region in Ontario. When looking at the Greater Toronto Area, including Durham Region, it is projected that labour market conditions will remain tight over the near term in order to meet major project requirements, including nuclear refurbishment. Low levels of unemployment and aging demographics maintain recruitment challenges over the next ten years, even during periods of slower growth. Table 14 provides an overview of the non-residential construction trades BuildForce deems as in demand until 2023. This data is closely related to the qualitative data collected through various reports conducted by the Durham Workforce Authority, as well as other reports written with knowledge of the skilled trades, including the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum. BuildForce uses a five point scale where the numeric values represent the following:

  1. Workers meeting employer qualifications are available in local markets to meet an increase demand at the current offered rate of compensation and other current working conditions. Excess supply is apparent and there is litter risk of losing workers to other markets
  2. Workers meeting employer qualifications are available in local markets to meet an increase in demand at the current rate of compensation and other working conditions.
  3. The availability of workers meeting employer qualifications in the local market may be limited by large projects, plant shutdowns and other short-term increases in demand. Employers may need to compete to attract needed workers. Established patterns of recruitment and mobility are sufficient to meet demand.
  4. Workers meeting employer qualifications are generally not available in local markets to meet any increase. Employers will need to compete to attract additional workers. Recruiting and mobility may extend beyond traditional sources and practices.
  5. Needed workers meeting employer qualifications are not available in local markets to meet current demand so that projects or production may be delayed or deferred. There is excess demand, competition is intense and recruiting reaches remote markets.

Table 14 provides and overview of some of the most in-demand trades and occupations in the Greater Toronto Area, including Durham Region, from 2019 – 2021.

Table 14 BuildForce, Non-Residential Labour Market Rankings 2019 – 2023

Source: BuildForce, Greater Toronto Area: 2019 – 2028 Construction and Maintenance Looking Forward 

Table 14 displays a projected labour shortage across the board for almost all non-residential construction trades. This is a concern that will continue to be addressed through various labour market initiatives, and Durham Workforce Authority aims to be part of the solution.