Without a rapid and substantive allocation of funding by the Ontario Government for existing programs – both private and public – that support the re-training and integration of skilled immigrants into the Ontario workforce, the already dismal provincial economy will regress to a position in the national and global community that will be difficult to recover.

In January 2008, Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said Ottawa needed to find ways to help Canada draw talented immigrants to the country to help avert an economic collapse. Indeed, the minister was quoted as saying that labour shortages are one of the “most daunting economic challenges” Canada will face in coming years.

For years, researchers have been warning about potential labour shortages across Canada, yet governments have not responded. In 2008, Statistics Canada stated that a widespread shortage of workers impacting a broad range of occupations will occur and pointed out that by 2015, immigrant workers will be required to sustain the skilled labour workforce since there are too few naturalized Canadians graduating to meet the demands.

An alarming combination of factors is bearing down on Ontario: an aging population and low birth rate, coupled with a globalized and technologically progressive economy that has helped to generate competition from emerging countries. This dynamic, while not necessarily unique to Ontario, will be more acutely felt by Ontario employers and businesses since the province has very large manufacturing and resource based sectors.

Moreover, since the labour market and economy are so tightly bound, a shortage of skilled trade and sector specific workers can severely damage an economy. When the ratio of workers arriving to the workplace dips below the number leaving it, it will create a drag on the economy and stagnate an already challenging economic climate.

Recently, there has been some work to address these concerns. For example, there is Global Experience @ Work, an Ontario Chamber of Commerce initiative designed to engage employers in efforts to integrate internationally trained professionals and trades people. It sponsors local community projects and received financial support from the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration.

There is also the Red Seal Program, which allows skilled apprentices and qualified tradespersons to practice their trade in any province or territory in Canada where the trade is designated without having to write further examinations. Red Seal, however, does not assist foreign trained apprentices and certified journeypersons. The Ontario government should look to adopt the core concepts of the Interprovincial Standards Red Seal Program and standardize apprenticeship training and certification programs and increase the types of trades included in the Red Seal Program.

Eliminating barriers for internationally trained professionals and trades people is essential to enhancing Ontario’s workforce. Recognizing the skills shortages in Ontario and the availability of new Canadians with skills and experience that are in demand, there is an opportunity to focus on projects that will bridge this significant productivity gap. It is important that the Government of Ontario continue to support and expand programs that allow foreign trained professionals and skilled trade persons to be re-certified and integrated quickly into streams of labour that are identified as being a priority area first.

The needs in the Post-Secondary Education infrastructure sector include:
• Developing and deploying innovative programming and services for Internationally Trained Individuals and other New Canadian students;

• Language training, academic upgrade programming, preparatory and alternative school programs that have a flexible intake process;

• Enhancing language training and fast-track Post-Secondary credential opportunities with work placements for newcomers to Canada.

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce urges the Government of Ontario to:

1. Engage directly with employers and colleges to identify which areas of the labour and professional sectors are a priority for skilled worker placement.

2. Develop and fund a postsecondary education process for the integration of immigrants that would encompass a comprehensive suite of programs and services including, but not limited to: accessible labour market information, counseling and advisory services and ‘bridge’ training courses that improve an individual’s existing foreign training and education should they not meet the standards under the Red Seal Program.

3. Consult with municipalities, community settlement organizations and business groups in a consistent and inclusive manner to better attract, retain and develop immigrants into the community and sector.

4. Provide more funding for English or French as second language training programs as it pertains to skilled workforce integration into Ontario.