Canada’s Missing STEM Skills Shortage

Image: iStockPhoto

As in the United States and some other countries, there has been much hand-wringing in Canada about the lack of STEM and other skilled workers. For instance, a study late  last year by IBM proclaimed that Canada would be short 100 000 workers by 2016. In addition, in October, a report underwritten by pharmaceutical company Amgen Canada argued that Canada wasn’t producing a sufficient supply of STEM students while the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association argued a few days ago that a skills shortage is significantly hurting Canadian companies’ competitiveness. Canadian government ministers have also been loudly asserting a “skills crisis.” Prime Minister Stephen Harper has gone so far as stating that the lack of skilled workers, scientists, and engineers was “the biggest challenge our country faces.”

Some Canadian economists and others have questioned the validity of these claims (including using the government’s own data to contradict Canada's official position). But the counter-claims didn't carry much weight until a few weeks ago. That’s when senior economists at TD Bank, the second-largest bank and financial services company in Canada, published an in-depth analysis (pdf) of the alleged wide-spread skills shortage in Canada and found the claims “exaggerated.”

TD's deputy chief economist Derek Burleton was quoted by CBC News as saying, “Evidence of economy-wide shortages is hard to find. Yes, across regions and occupations, skills mismatches (exist) because you are never going to get a perfect match. So it's not a complete myth, but it's not as extreme as people believe.”

Even in country’s Western provinces, which report the greatest skills shortages, wages have not risen measurably—something that happens when there is a shortage. The TD report says, “The story on the wage data remains curious, as wage gains out West have not increased to the extent that one might have thought given the signs of tightness.”

Of course, soon after the report was published, those with a vested interest in promoting the claim of a skills shortage took umbrage to it. The Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) and Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC), for example, immediately issued a press release saying the bank’s analysis “does not hold up to scrutiny,” that the skills shortage was  real indeed, and that “addressing it is critical to Canada’s economy.”

This to and fro should all sound familiar to readers of my IEEE Spectrum article "The STEM Crisis is a Myth".

Photo: iStockphoto

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