Matchup is a recent study by the Canada West Foundation found that Canada has 1.32 million unemployed and 400,000 unfilled jobs. I expect the same ratios of unemployed workers and unfilled jobs also exists in Alberta. The paradox is there are people without jobs and jobs without people. Why?
This is not just our problem. It is all through the developed world. A 2014 study called the Global Talent Competitiveness Index (GTCI) found about 200 million people unemployed worldwide despite over 33 million people looking for work in Europe and the USA. Over 8 million jobs are left vacant each year. The 2017 GTCI Report is here, if you want to delve deeper.
I also suspect that mismatch will persist in Alberta, even as the economy is starting to turn around. This is partially due to the emergence of business recovery, including the dominant energy sector, but the forward thinkers are shifting to automation and other technologies that demand fewer workers with more skills and competency.
The results are diminishing prospects for thousands of families, missed innovation and growth shortfalls.
Investing in Talent to be Competitive
So how do we, as a province, get around this? It’s not going to be easy but the GTCI says the solution is “Talent.” Those workers who have the capacity and commitment to be continuous learners have the advantage to attract employment, retain it and grow in the jobs. Those businesses that invest in training and who measure and value workforce competency will be the winners.
The GTCI measured 93 countries on Talent Competitiveness in terms of “their ability to attract and incubate talent.” European countries dominated the list as 16 of them made the top 25 list. The good news is Canada made the Top Ten, along with Singapore, the USA, and Australia.
The GTIC found the top 3 were Switzerland (pop 8.3million), Singapore (population 5.8 million) and Luxembourg (population 584,000), were there, in part, because they were open economies in terms of trade, investment and people. Their small population size, geography and lack of natural resources meant they had to be globalized from the start.
Those criteria for talent attraction advantages are the same for Alberta (population 4.3 million) AND we have natural resources. The problem is our major export is raw hydrocarbons and they almost all go to one customer, the USA and they are now our largest competitor. Talk about a blessing and burden of how we exploit our natural resources in the same breath.
The Alberta Advantage is Not Low Taxes, It’s High Talent.
Alberta, like #1 Switzerland, has other talent competitiveness advantages. We have a stable political landscape (relatively speaking) and a strong flexible business environment. We both have strong primary school systems that perform well in global rankings. Alberta’s school system, until recently, was the second highest ranking public education system in the world. This was especially true of the Edmonton Public School Board. Finland is consistently at the top of world rankings but there are lots of collaborations between Alberta public education and Finland. As a result, we learn how to be better at public education from each other.
Our mutual focus on technical, business and engineering schools as being well respected and able to serve business needs. This includes an Alberta apprenticeship system, like Switzerland, that provides early access to actual on-the-job experience.
We in Alberta have some challenges retaining all the graduates we produce, both in terms of quantity and quality of employment. The GTIC points to the Netherlands for lessons to be learned in this challenge through a culture of formal education and lifelong learning and access to career growth opportunities.
The advantages we can emulate from the United States are around clusters of excellence and innovation with investments in applied research and development.
The Reluctance for Business to Invest in Workforce Traning Holds Us Back
There is a limiting mindset in Alberta about business investing talent training. Too often we hear business leaders say “Why should I invest in employee training when they can just move elsewhere?” The key is openness and recognizing that talent mobility is a reality and we get as good as we give.
The more critical issue is to be sure the training is directed at employable skills. So many skills investment is not in areas that support the changing economy needs or empower innovation and entrepreneurship.
Also, we need to accept that Alberta’s “skilled” workforce is well credentialed and certified not all that competent, including in Essential Skill areas. That is where the best bang for the talent and skills investment will be in the short to midterm. That is the subject of another blog post.
So while Alberta is generally feeling sorry for itself given the “lower for longer” recession and the “new normal” of a slower recovery, the solution is not a rebound of oil prices. Its about adapting and adopting a better economic, environmental, social and political mindset with a longer-term view. It is about creating a provincial economy that is economically adaptable for international competitiveness, environmentally responsible, socially intent on creating equitable well-being and politically progressive.
There are signs of Progress to these goals. They are found through GO Productivity’s PAAD Initiative. Contact GO Productivity if you want to start optimizing your business opportunities using productivity, innovation and skills investment approaches.