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The report by the thought leadership group at Royal Bank of Canada (RBC)

Technological change, accelerated by the pandemic, has transformed not only the tools available to tradespeople, but the skills needed to operate them. Today’s industrial mechanics, electricians, heavy equipment operators must have the digital savvy to operate the electronic-testing equipment, 3D technology, and digital diagnostic tools becoming commonplace in the manufacturing and construction sectors. They will also have to brace for frequent retraining on evolving technologies.

Meanwhile, soft skills, such as critical thinking, creativity, problem solving and communication, are more important than ever in an economy that demands collaboration across sectors. These skills will increase in importance, but at the same time they won’t replace traditional technical ability. A foundational understanding of metallurgy, for instance, will remain crucial to a welder programming a robotic arm.

Canada’s skilled tradespeople — the welders, machinists, electricians and plumbers that have long been the backbone of the economy—are more critical than ever. In the report, prepared by the thought leadership group at Royal Bank of Canada, the main challenges facing the sector were identified — the underrepresentation of women and immigrants, the need to double down on digital training, and the ongoing stigmas surrounding trades careers — and how best to address them.

Key Points

  • 25% of Canada’s 4 million tradespeople will need to upgrade their skills within five years amid significant digital disruption.1
  • Canada will face a shortage of at least 10,000 workers in nationally recognized Red Seal trades over that period—a deficit that swells tenfold when 250 provincially regulated trades are included.2
  • The most severe shortages will be among trades critical to the coming infrastructure boom, including industrial mechanics, welders and boilermakers.
  • Demand for digital and “soft” skills like creativity and problem solving is expected to rise significantly in these critical trades.
  • Over 700,000 skilled tradespeople are expected to retire by 2028.
  • Women made up just 11% of new registrants for apprenticeship programs in 2019 and continue to represent less than 4% of workers in the most in-demand trades.3
  • Immigrants comprised 8.7% of apprentices despite accounting for more than 20% of the population.4
  • Canada is falling short of its goal to bring in 3,000 skilled tradespeople annually through immigration, admitting 2,365 such newcomers in 2019 through the Federal Skilled Trades Program.5
  • Educators, employers and policymakers will need to address chronic problems in the trades pipeline, tap into underused pools of talent, and address a widening digital skills gap amid rapid technological advances in the workplace.

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