Skillshed Project

Is the skills gap connected to a lack of employment information?

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Recently posted in the Huffington Post was an article stressing the importance of information in closing the skills gap. As noted by President and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce Perrin Beatty, “If we are serious about closing the skills gap in the future, young people and their parents need to be much better informed about employment and income prospects when deciding on post-secondary education.”

This article is stressing the importance of improving the information available and through this, we can produce better talent. “We are going to win in the business marketplace if we have the best workforce, and lose if we don’t.”

More preparation for ‘careers’ and less for ‘jobs’ could be key to narrowing the gap

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This may begin to sound like a broken record, but its importance need not be undermined. Another article was posted, this time within Forbes Magazine, regarding the widening gap between unemployed individuals and companies in need of qualified candidates. Within this article, Forbes introduces their Reinventing America conference, which addressed several reasons as to why the skills gap exists.

There is currently an information gap, which shows that 115,000-120,000 students show up at colleges every year, unaware of the jobs in high demand. “How can we give them the skills they need if they do not know what is out there?” questions Cheryl Hyman, Chancellor of City Colleges of Chicago.

Much of the change is happening at the college level, where we have to prepare these students for future careers, not just future jobs. We need to not only focus on access to education, but success within these institutions, notes Hyman, and then we could potentially notice a narrowing in the gap.

Data shows the value of a university education in the workplace

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A recent report was released from The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations highlighting the importance of a university education. In data released from Statistics Canada, it was noted that “over a 20 year period, male university grads make on average $732,000 more than individuals with only a high school credential, and $485,000 more than community college graduates, [while] women earned $448,00 and $269,000 respectively”.

However, along with the benefit of a university education comes the persistent pay gap between male and female graduates as well. In an article posted within the Huffington Post, panelists from the Aspen Institute discussed the “lack of female-friendly policies plaguing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.” Despite this absence of policies, women are being termed as the “untapped resource in STEM fields, outperforming men in acquiring advanced skills.” What is suggested from vice president of DuPont Engineering Karen A. Fletcher is that through the use of exposure to the field, mentorships, and cultural competence, we can tap into that resource, and not only recruit but maintain more women in the field.

These numbers should spark discussion, as they may suggest that even though universities do not teach specific skills for specific jobs, individuals with university education do appear of have acquired skills that may help them to achieve employment with more long-term financial reward.  It might be noteworthy to explore what these less tangible skills are that appear to be so valuable and transferrable.

Survey reveals disagreement between colleges and employers on workforce ready graduates

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In an article posted within the College section of the Huffington Post, a recent polled revealed that only 11 percent of business leaders strongly agree that graduates have the skills and competencies necessary to succeed in the workplace. On the other hand, 96 percent of academic officials believe that they are “effectively preparing students for success in the workplace”. Why are there such contradicting perspectives on the skills gap? According to Chief Workforce Strategist at College of America Julian L. Alssid, what academia view as workforce-readiness in college graduates greatly differs from what businesses see as readiness.

It is hard to place blame completely on one party according to Alssid. On the one hand, everyday businesses see “well-screened, seemingly well-qualified graduates filter through their doors—without the basic skills sets expected.” Employers are looking for practical skills, not just the knowledge of theory. On the opposing side, however, industry leaders neglect to communicate effectively with educational institutions about the skills they need. Part of the solution to fix this gap, says Alssid, will require a “consortium of effort—from educators, business leaders, workforce development professionals, economic developers and the students themselves” to build a competent workforce for all involved.

Although Alssid posits an interesting solution here, it is also important to note that employers may also have to understand that they are unable to outsource all of their training to colleges, universities, and other government subsidized programs. These are designed with standardized curricula for a “one size fits all” training experience designed around common problems faced in the workforce. In other words, employers may just have to accept that colleges and universities may not be the place to receive “basic skills.” This may have to be part of training while on the job, as every place of employment is often a unique environment, with unique needs, having differing basic skill requirements and application of those skills.

Report on Skillshed Pilot Study and A Review of Skillshed Analysis Practices and Outcomes

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Report on Skillshed Pilot Study

This is the report on our Skillshed pilot study funding in part by the Durham Workforce Authority and by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (file #412-2013-2006) under the Knowledge Synthesis Grant: Skills Development for Future Needs of the Canadian Labour Market.

DWA Skillshed Data Summary 2014

A Review of Skillshed Analysis Practices and Outcomes

This project was funded by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council(file # 412-2013-2006) under the Knowledge Synthesis Grants: Skills Development for Future Needs of the Canadian Labour Market competition.

 A Review of Skillshed Analysis Practices and Outcomes







Canadian Job Grant pulling attention away from the skills gap

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The battle between the federal government and the provinces regarding the Canada Job Grant may just be the forefront to a larger conflict, notes Employment and Social Development Minister Jason Kenney. This fight between the two governments, according to Kenney, is just a lead into the real issue we are facing in today’s economy: the perceived skills gap in the country.

Minister Jason Kenney states he is frustrated that “the negotiations on the Canada Job Grant, which provinces have largely opposed, have ‘sucked the oxygen’ out of the larger conversation of how to tackle the perceived skills gap in the country” when the focus should be on the main issue, the broader skills agenda. The attention being placed on the Job Grant has taken the spotlight off of “one of the most important future economic issues”, which is a concern, considering there is more work to be done on more pressing economic issues.

Read more from Jason Kenney

Canada’s economic recovery is proving to be weak

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Unsettling news was just released regarding the unemployment rates in Canada, and that is that for the month of December 2013, Canada lost 49,500 jobs. Unemployment rose “unexpectedly from a five-year low” in December, ending what is said to be “the worst year for employment growth since 2009”.

What are the reasons for the high unemployment rates? Big cities are finding an increase in the flow of immigrants and young people seeking work. The question at hand is are these unemployment rates reflective of the lack of skills or just the reality of the economy we are currently in? According to Principle Economist at the Conference Board of Canada Alan Arcand, what happens in Canada’s economy is directly reflective of what is happening the American economy. Currently, the United Sates economic “recovery” has been quite weak, which is predicted to hold a negative impact on the immediate future of Canada’s employment rates. The reasoning for this, according to Arcand, is a combination of factors, whether in relation to local property taxes, economic promotion activities, or development policies. Nonetheless, the United States’ economy holds significant impact on Canada’s economy.

Is the skills gap the result of difficulties finding fitting employees, or exaggeration on behalf of employers?

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Canada, like other counties, is attempting to deal with seemingly paradoxical issues. On one hand, we have an unemployment rate that has recently increased in many parts of the country, and on the other we have companies who have job opportunities, but are having trouble finding qualified candidates. This odd situation may be the result of a series of mismatches between the skills individuals have and the skills employers need. Although it was noted in the TD Economics Report that it has been increasingly difficult for companies to find employees with the skills they require, it has also been noted that it is in the employers’ interest to claim that there are not enough “qualified candidates for jobs”. According to Tanya Antoniw, Workforce Windsor-Essex executive director, employers claim that there are not enough qualified candidates because “it helps them make the case for government subsidized training programs”.

Regardless of whether there is an exaggeration on the part of the employers or reflective of a true skills gap in certain sectors, Tanya Antoniw still notes that Canada needs a better system for keeping track of who is hiring. Without proper information regarding skills and employment in demand, Canadians cannot make good decisions about future plans of action.

More from Tanya Antoniw:

Brownell, C. (2014, January 02). Canada’s skills crisis could be exaggerated: Report. The Windsor Star. Retrieved from

A lack of skills or lack of communication?

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There was an interesting video streamed in the Huffington Post on December 12, 2013 regarding the leeway being made by the Aspen Institute and JPMorgan Chase & Co. on the skills gap. They are saying that within the immediate future, more funding will be focused on training Canadians with the necessary skills to ensure that the skills needed in jobs can be successfully filled by Canadians. Even though it’s still vague whether the skills aren’t present or whether the high unemployment is due to a mismatch of skills and lack of communication between employers and potential employees, from the Aspen Institute and JPMorgan Chase & Co. feels the additional training could turn the unemployment rate around.

Check out the video and ideas from the Huffington Post on the plan of action regarding the mismatch of skills and lack of communication currently present.


The Aspen Institute. (2013, December 12). Closing the workforce skills gap (LIVESTREAM) [Video file]. Retrieved from

Are the skills employers need available in Canada?

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When trying to find matches for workers and employers, it is unclear whether Canadians have the right skills for the jobs, or whether we need to bring in that skilled labour from outside the country. In a study by Toronto Dominion Bank (Burleton, Gulati, McDonald & Scarfone, 2013) it is suggested that we do in fact have the skills we need right here, the problem is that the jobs and the people with the skills may be mismatched. In other words, those people with the right skills may not be near the jobs that they were trained for. Certain sectors are experiencing rapid growth, such as resources and health care while others are on the decline, such as manufacturing (Burleton et al., 2013). All in all, however, the biggest challenge, as outlined within the study by Toronto Dominion Bank is not the shortage of skilled workers, but the mismatch of these skills (Burleton, Gulati, McDonald & Scarfone, 2013)

We do not currently collect information on the skills people have in Canada, but we do know about our labour force and the skills employers are looking for. Recent attempts in the United States have tried to measure just this: what skills do people have? These studies have been done at the local level and are called skillshed studies. This project being conducted now in Canada is about replicating some of that work, and seeing if this kind of study would help people here, which is exactly what the Durham Workforce Authority (DWA) is looking to do.


Burleton, D., Gulati, S., McDonald, C., & Scarfone, S. (2013). Jobs in Canada: Where, what and for whom? Toronto, ON: TD Economics. Retrieved from