Canada faces a shortage in digital and STEM skills, says C.D Howe Institute report

Toronto-based policy research organization, C.D Howe Institute has released a study examining the shortage in digital and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills in Canada. 

Governments, at all levels, need to attract and retain immigrants with digital talent, while employers need to invest in upskilling or reskilling their workforces, the study noted. Accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, rapid digitalization has led to skills shortages as businesses restructure their operations and people change how they work and live.

The report underlines the importance of defining those skills shortages and talent gaps, as they vary across businesses, but says that they usually occur when the digital skills needed in a company and what its employees offer do not align or are inadequate. Skills shortages, the report adds, are difficult to address as it is hard and time-consuming to acquire specialized digital skills.

To effectively attract digital talent, the report says that the federal and provincial governments should reform immigration processes to retain international students in STEM fields, and ensure that temporary and permanent immigration programs adequately increase the supply of newcomers while providing them with tailored support to successfully integrate into the job market. Additionally, measures should be taken to strengthen language skills of skilled immigrants and address barriers to recognition of foreign credentials and experience.

Furthermore, the study says the government should expedite the following measures within the education system in order to develop digital talent:

  • provide sufficient resources to teachers of STEM subjects
  • modernize the curricula to expand digital learning, AI and data science courses
  • increase enrollments and graduation numbers in STEM fields
  • close the gender gap by advising female students on study and career choices in STEM fields
  • encourage minorities to pursue their education in STEM
  • Implement work-integrated learning opportunities such as co-op programs in the ICT sector
  • Increase access to certification programs
  • Preventing brain drain by retaining new graduates

Finally, the report suggests that employers should attract workers with higher wages, and on-the-job training opportunities, and prioritize skills and non-formal training options over degrees in order to expand the pool of digital talent. 

Higher wages, however, are effective only in the short term if there is sufficient supply of labour with the right skills, but can regardless create incentive for increasing the supply of digital skills in the future, the report noted.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Ashee Pamma
Ashee Pamma
Ashee is a writer for ITWC. She completed her degree in Communication and Media Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa. She hopes to become a columnist after further studies in Journalism. You can email her at apamma@itwc.ca

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