As an engineer, Jim Smith trusts numbers. And he thinks numbers suggest a solution to Alberta’s looming labour shortage.
President of the Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists and Geophysicists of Alberta (APEGGA), Smith noted that there’s currently 3.3 Canadians available for every posted job opening.
“You don’t need a calculator to figure out that three is greater than one,” he said. “You’ve got lots of people, so why are we having a labour shortage?”
The problem rests with the locations and skills of those people, the latter of which could be addressed.
Smith said he has spoken with the deans of the engineering faculties at the universities of Calgary and Alberta. Both acknowledged that they turn down hundreds of applicants who would be good students but fail to make the enrolment cut.
“We’re not in a position to offer these young people opportunities to grow and develop, yet we’re complaining about not having enough people to work in the industry.”
Students also encounter problems prior to post-secondary education, suggested Smith.
He described how APEGGA is involved in a pilot project in Calgary where its members work with students in grades 10 to 12. Young people who struggle in traditional classrooms thrive when they understand the practical applications of what they’re learning.
Smith also pointed out that more than 80 per cent of graduates remain close to where they went to school.
It makes sense, therefore, to offer industry-relevant training near where the jobs exist.
He doesn’t think industry, educators and government are working closely enough to find solutions.
“The challenge we have is it’s not an educators’ problem, it’s not an industry problem, it’s not a problem of students — it’s a society problem, and we don’t have any leadership to move this whole thing forward.”
APEGGA is working to attract more aboriginals to the professions it represents. But until educational capacity increases, many of the young people who respond won’t be able to access the related training.
Smith was in Central Alberta on Monday, speaking with industry officials and taking part in an APEGGA dinner in Red Deer.
A resident of Grande Prairie, he worked for Weyerhaeuser for 32 years before retiring nine years ago.
APEGGA is a self-regulated professional association with more than 63,000 members.