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February 15, 2013

Expansion pressures Canadian engineering labour

Supply and demand imbalances are becoming more serious within the Canadian engineering community, found a report released by Engineers Canada.

“We got the chronic shortage of that mid-career one and we’ve got the chronic over-supply at the front end,” said Kim Allen, chief executive officer of Engineers Canada.

“It’s not that we don’t have the raw talent...we’re just not getting people to that stage where they’re real productive, the senior engineers that are doing the real high-end work.”

The Engineering Labour Market in Canada: Projects to 2020, looked at expansion demands, replacement demands, post-secondary programs and immigration.

On a national basis, expansion demand creates 16,000 engineering jobs from 2011 to 2020, a gain of eight per cent. Virtually all the gains are west of Quebec.

Alberta and British Columbia have similar market conditions across the decade with significant supply pressures due to resource and infrastructure projects driving employment, though the timing of market shifts is different.

Markets in Saskatchewan are more cyclical and more varied, but the supply constraints are an issue in the majority of markets across the decade. Since Saskatchewan is a small market with big project demands, local post-secondary programs are not able to keep pace.

Manitoba expansion demands are concentrated in resource and utility projects.

Demands will tighten markets, especially for civil and electrical engineers from 2013 to 2020. Local post-secondary programs cannot match the shifting markets.

Ontario began the decade with limited growth. Resource projects in the north and infrastructure in most regions lead job creation.

Steady improvements in manufacturing create supply pressures for industrial engineers.

Resource and infrastructure projects add jobs and create significant supply pressures for mining and civil engineers.

Newfoundland and Labrador markets are more cyclical than other provinces and will have significant supply pressures and constraints anticipated at regular intervals.

These conditions may reflect a shift in demands that will add work in engineering services in markets that have weak conditions and can provide the experience and specialties needed for the Newfoundland and Labrador projects.

Engineering regulators across the country have worked towards a vision that engineers can receive a license in another jurisdiction in a matter of minutes.

“We’re down in a number of jurisdictions, down into days and certainly no more than weeks in other jurisdictions...[to] allow that mobility,” said Allen.

Replacements demands related to retirement patterns are a dominant issue. From a national perspective, the average age of engineers varies from a low of 34.6 for computer, petroleum, mining and geological engineers to 42.1 for civil engineers. Large numbers in each group move into their early to mid-60’s from 2011 to 2020.

Allen says there is a chronic shortage of experienced mid-career engineers with 10 to 15 years of good experience. These annual forecasts from Engineers Canada, which have been conducted since 2008, indicate that about one-third of engineering graduates stay in engineering to this point.

“It could be something within the whole industry that we don’t value that as much where people are rewarded more by going off into management or going off into other fields that are more attractive for the skills that the person has,” he said.

“We’ve got to do a better job with engaging the front end people so you actually solve that problem.”

The report identifies that there is an abundance of young students enrolled in and completing engineering programs but lack the practical skills relevant for the current workforce demands.

One of the goals of these forecasts is to inform engineering programs about where the labour market demands lie.

Graduates entering the labour market are the largest single source of supply to the market. Immigration has been a strong second source in the past.

Immigration of internationally trained engineers increased in 2011, but remains below the trend set in the past decade.

Engineers Canada recently launched a new website, http://newcomers.engineerscanada.ca, to help newcomers to Canada plan their engineering careers.

In many cases, newcomers are poorly informed of the licensure process in Canada, unaware of how long it takes or that requirements can differ from province to province. Many newcomers also lack the communication skills needed to successfully pursue an engineering career in Canada.

Allen called the website a “road map”.

“People can actually look and they can get as much possible data about what’s required, what the process is, what’s put in place. We all recognize that the quicker you can actually recognize somebody’s credentials, get them fully engaged in their professions, the better it is for the individuals, the better it is for the country to get people in there,” he said.

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