Let’s Trade

Canada stands at the cross-roads as we look to a horizon with the potential to shine bright through a restart. To reach this horizon, Canada needs the people and skills to build and innovate for the future economy. This is particularly true when speaking to skilled trades.

Canada is facing a labour shortage that will only deepen in the coming years. Generally, a reported 1.5 million workers are expected to retire in the next 15 years, with 600,000 of these same individuals departing within the next three years.

We are seeing similar trends and shortages when we speak to skilled trades. Defined by an aging workforce approaching retirement combined with a thinning talent pipeline with the necessary skills for a digital economy, almost one million or a quarter of all skilled tradespeople will require retraining over the next five years. With over 700,000 workers in the skilled trades expected to retire by 2028, there is a compelling opportunity to reimagine skilled trades and explore ideas that will position it as a viable career choice to support this restart.

As the future of work takes shape, and Canada undergoes a massive infrastructure overhaul, there will be a new and greater need for digitally capable, skilled tradespeople to move this transformation forward. Generally speaking, Canada isn’t fully leveraging its human capital. Consider how by increasing women’s labour force participation rate could add another 1.2 million people to the labour force. Consider how, within skilled trades, by doing the same with women, newcomers, Indigenous, people with varying abilities, 2SLGBTQ*, and more underrepresented groups we can effectively respond to these gaps.

What if we were to reimagine skilled trades and challenge preconceived biases of what it means to work in the trades? What if we were to make access to these opportunities for diverse communities an important part of this work? By increasing the representation of women, newcomers, and Indigenous youth in Canada’s skilled trades, we can change some of the trends that we are experiencing – trends such as women and immigrants representing only 11 per cent and 8.7 per cent of apprentices in 2019 and continue to represent less than 4 per cent of workers in the most in-demand trades.

To bridge diverse communities with these opportunities, what if government applies gender quotas to ensure greater representation of women for publicly funded projects? And, what if, to attract skilled immigrants, Canada takes a more aggressive approach to promoting Canadian trades within source countries? Indigenous Canadians already make up a larger proportion of apprenticeships and yet this number could grow exponentially if given the right investment in skill development for Indigenous youth—the fastest growing cohort of youth in Canada.

In the latest chapter of its Humans Wanted research program, RBC Economics and Thought Leadership recommends that key investments must be made in Canada’s skilled tradespeople to prepare for the significant disruption that lies ahead. Along with the need for technical skills, soft skills like problem solving, critical thinking, e-learning and remote collaboration will also be in greater demand.

Canada’s potential to thrive in a greener, more innovative and technologically advanced post-pandemic economy depends on its skilled tradespeople. They will be critical to building, designing and creating that future. But to get there, the skilled trades need the cooperation of industry, educators and policymakers to inject new talent and training into their field.

RBC recently announced a $450,000 gift to Saskatchewan Polytechnic to help fund the Skills Enhancement Training Project program that provides access to skills training for underrepresented communities including women, Indigenous peoples, 2SLGBTQ*, people with varying abilities, visible minorities, and new Canadians.

For more information on this topic and proposed solutions, visit RBC Thought Leadership and the report Powering Up: Preparing Canada’s skilled trades for a post-pandemic economy at thoughtleadership.rbc.com.