Help Wanted: Education, Immigration, and the Labour Shortage in Quebec

When I was growing up in the eighties and nineties, I was taught that I had to get an education and that it didn’t matter what I studied so long as I got a DEC and a Bachelor’s degree. This seems to be the narrative Gen Xers and Yers were fed, and many of us went into debt trying to get that coveted degree that would allegedly guarantee us a job when we were ready to enter the market.

Sadly, the reality we encountered was very different when we started looking for work in the early 2000s. Employers questioned us on our degrees and why we chose to study a given subject. Unlike previous eras, many were unwilling to give us on-the-job training that would compensate for any specialized education, and many of us went back to school and into more debt hoping get another degree that would get us a job with a modicum of financial stability.

In spite of how highly educated many of us are, Canada, and especially Quebec, is suffering from a massive labour shortage. This article is going to discuss the labour shortage and why it has happened. Next week I will be going over the controversial issue of the recognition of foreign degrees and qualifications in Quebec.

Quebec needs workers.

During the Quebec election, Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume called for more immigration to fill the 17 000 jobs on the north and south shores of the city, telling the CBC he didn’t see any other way to find people for them. In October 2018, Montreal Board of Trade President Michel Leblanc expressed concern over the Coalition Avenir du Québec (CAQ) government’s plan to cut the number of immigrants saying “we need to have more.”

The newly-elected CAQ wants to cut immigration to Quebec by twenty percent – a clear indication that they feel the solution to the labour shortage is not to bring in more people from abroad. Their platform includes encouraging older workers to stay active as long as possible to address the fact that jobs are not being filled at the rate that the baby boomers are retiring. The boomers did not have as many children as their parents did and the result is fewer native-born people in the labour market.

The CAQ also wants to enhance vocational and technical training programs to fill labour market needs and offer more job-study programs. Whether the labour of students in job-study programs would be paid or not remains to be seen, but it must be addressed as people cannot live on “learning experience” and many young people are reluctant to do them because they cannot pay for living expenses at the same time. Another idea the CAQ has put forward is that of encouraging cooperation between businesses and universities to better tailor education programs to business needs.

Part of the labour problem lies in the mismatch between the degrees people in Quebec are getting and the jobs available. One of the clearest indications of this is the employment offered at Montreal’s most recent job fair.

On October 24th and 25th, 2018, JobBoom.com hosted a massive job fair at the Palais des Congrès in Montreal. The employers present were calling for two types of employees. On the one hand you had businesses calling for highly specialized workers like nurses, accident assessment specialists, engineers, chartered appraisers, accountants, industrial security and safety specialists and so on. On the other hand were employers calling for what my generation was taught were “survival jobs” such as retail, security guarding, telemarketing, customer service, and administrative support.

Employers wanting specialized workers are not seeking people with any old Bachelor’s degree or DEC, but rather people with specific degrees, certifications, and even memberships to professional orders. While there is demand for chartered appraisers, for example, in order to become one in Quebec you need a Bachelor of Commerce with a concentration in real estate, followed by a yearlong internship, interview, and entrance exam, all of which come with their own sets of tuition fees, stage fees, and administration and exam costs. This likely means copious amounts of debt given wage stagnation for survival jobs.

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to define a survival job as a low paying job in which little experience or education is required. Many born in Canada were taught that survival jobs were meant to be temporary – the kinds of jobs you took to get by until you found a job that fit your education and career aspirations given the low pay and the often mindless, unfulfilling nature of the work.

It must be said that there is no shame in working a survival job. Many of us do not have the luxury of being choosy in employment due to our financial situation and anyone who depends on us for the income we earn. The only thing that’s really shameful about a survival job is how impossible it is to actually survive on the wages they pay due to wage stagnation in Canada. They are also generally the kinds of jobs that immigrants are most willing to fill due to the adjustment period following their arrival as well as the difficulties having their education and credentials recognized in Quebec.

In conclusion, there are jobs to be had in Quebec, lots of them. If you want to invest in higher education to get a good job, in today’s market you need to be very specific about what you study and make sure the program you choose fits a job in demand. If you need to work to survive, there are jobs for that too; they probably won’t be very fulfilling but you might scrape by. Go get ’em!

* Featured image by Brenda Gottsabend, Creative Commons

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