Canada’s birth rate is declining, and the population is aging. A growing skills gap has emerged as many older workers retire without qualified replacements to assume their roles. In the construction industry alone, for example, recent studies project a national shortage of 82,000 skilled workers by 2029. 1
Meeting Canada’s future workforce needs will require a significant infusion of skilled workers, many of them new Canadians. The federal government’s immigration strategy recognizes the important role that newcomers and international students will play in our future growth and prosperity.
Conestoga is committed to playing a significant role in building the labour force of the future by expanding the college’s footprint across southwestern Ontario and enhancing our capacity to meet the needs for skilled workers to address business and community needs. In addition to expanding our physical campuses, we will continue to develop remote and hybrid delivery models that increase access to programming for diverse learner groups. We will continue to expand our program offerings, including micro-credentials, in alignment with evolving needs.
Conestoga continues to advocate for increased flexibility in the credentials Ontario’s public colleges can offer in order to meet the full spectrum of workforce needs. The delivery of three-year degrees and Master’s degrees in applied areas of study at Ontario colleges would attract a larger body of applicants to our institutions, support increased specialization in programming, and provide a larger, more diversified talent supply to serve the needs of our province’s growing communities.
Only 25 per cent of Conestoga’s operating revenue in 2019-20 came from grant funding, including provincial operating grants. Tuition for domestic students has been frozen for two years and will remain at its current level until at least the fall of 2022. In order to maintain the high-quality learning experience students expect and deserve, the college must continue to focus on both domestic and international enrolment growth targeted to the jobs of the future.
Campus expansion projects in Brantford and Milton will help drive growth in domestic enrolment via an expanded catchment area as well as provide opportunities to increase international student enrolment in these areas.
In addition to supporting domestic students in their efforts to achieve their potential and launch successful futures, it is also imperative that Conestoga continue to expand international enrolment to meet the need for highly skilled and educated workers in Ontario. These students are a primary source of immigration, with many choosing to settle in Canada once their studies are complete.
Over the next 25 years, Ontario’s population is projected to increase by 31.5 per cent, with immigration expected to account for 83 per cent of growth.2 Based on current patterns, a significant proportion of Ontario’s newcomers will settle in or near Waterloo Wellington and other areas served by Conestoga campuses.
Ontario’s increased population will come with a plethora of increased demands – more homes, more services, more health care, more transportation options, and more businesses of all kinds to produce the full range of goods and services required to meet the needs of growing communities. Supporting this population will require an exponential growth in businesses and services, along with a highly skilled workforce to meet new demands. Investing in campus expansion and new developments will provide Conestoga with the additional capacity required to meet the workforce needs of growing communities and provide more individuals with opportunities to develop the skills and knowledge to launch successful futures.
The changing world of work
The COVID-19 pandemic has served as an accelerating force for many existing trends, including the adoption of technology and the move towards automated processes. This will continue to have a profound impact on the nature of work in Ontario, with some analysts indicating that a quarter of current work activities will be displaced by automation between 2016 and 2030.3 This will result in fewer opportunities for lower skilled and midskilled workers, creating an increased demand for upskilling and retraining as employer needs and expectations evolve at a rapid pace. At the same time, skill shortages will continue to grow, both as the result of an aging workforce in areas such as the trades as well as unprecedented demands for skilled workers in health care and community services, information and communications technology, and other STEM-related fields.
Conestoga and Ontario’s other public colleges have a key role to play in supporting the resiliency and adaptation of the workforce through a wide range of programming developed in close collaboration with employers. These programs range from traditional degrees and diplomas to micro-credentials and corporate training initiatives that allow workers to upskill quickly, either to adapt to new demands with current employers or to return to the labour force in new, more resilient roles. Our close collaboration with employers is instrumental in our efforts to ensure programming is regularly updated, relevant to the labour force, and responds to the needs of both employers and their future employees.
Meeting learner needs
For Conestoga to maintain its position as a top choice for both domestic and international students, as well as for the employers who hire our graduates, the college must remain at the forefront of programming options and technology. Providing both flexible delivery options and local access to programming and services will be essential to student recruitment and retention. We will continue to work in close collaboration with our industry partners to adapt programming to meet evolving needs and deliver world-class curriculum infused with technology to prepare graduates for success.
Conestoga has long been committed to an access and equity agenda, providing opportunities for learners from all backgrounds and circumstances to achieve their potential. Foundational programs and established educational pathways provide opportunities for learners to start where they are and progress as far as their interest and ability will take them, with a comprehensive suite of support services available to enable success.
The college has a key role to play in Ontario’s recovery, supporting industry and community needs as we provide opportunities for learners from all backgrounds and circumstances to develop in-demand skills and launch successful futures.
Supporting those workers displaced as a result of the pandemic in their efforts to develop the skills and knowledge they need to return to the workforce will contribute to the development of the talent pipeline required to meet evolving workforce needs. Applied research in collaboration with industry will develop new solutions to current and emerging challenges. Our efforts will not only support the learners we serve but will also contribute to the success of businesses and the prosperity and well-being of communities across the province.
This role is not new for Conestoga, but the level of economic and social disruption caused by the pandemic across all walks of life is. Colleges such as Conestoga will play an instrumental role in Ontario’s recovery through education, training, and applied research that will help struggling businesses adjust to new realities and provide opportunities for displaced workers of all backgrounds in their efforts to return to meaningful employment.
- Varga, Christine, “Construction industry fears a skilled-trades shortage”, Globe and Mail, February 23, 2021, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/industry-news/property-report/article-construction-industry-fears-a-skilled-trades-shortage/
- Ontario Population Projections Update, 2019–2046, https://www.ontario.ca/page/ontario-population-projections#s2
- Manyika, James, “Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained: Workforce Transitions in a Time of Automation”, McKinsey Global Institute, December 2017, https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/industries/public%20and%20social%20sector/our%20insights/what%20the%20future%20of%20work%20will%20mean%20for%20jobs%20skills%20and%20wages/mgi-jobs-lost-jobs-gained-report-december-6-2017.pdf