For years the Canadian public has been warned about the coming retirement of the so-called Baby Boomers. The concern has been that the supply of young people entering the labour market has been dropping precipitously just as the wave of Baby Boomer retirees quickly approaches.
It appears that the day of reckoning is upon us. As the Globe and Mail reports today, at some point this year the number of young workers entering the labour market is set to no longer outnumber the number of individuals exiting the market (i.e. retiring). Specifically, the Globe reports that in 2013 the number of 15- to 24-year-olds will begin to drop below the number of 55 to 64 year olds for the first time ever.
A record to celebrate? Not so much
Rather than congratulating Canada’s Baby Boomers for reducing Canada’s baby production to record low levels, the country must instead grapple with what is quickly becoming a serious demographic problem. Less young people entering the labour market threatens Canada’s tax base, meaning that there may not be enough money to support a rapidly aging population. Employers will also have an increasingly difficult time finding the skills necessary in order to drive their businesses forward, potentially hurting Canada’s competitiveness and, by extension, its economic growth rate.
Various studies point to potential home grown solutions to this demographic problem.
A common one is that we should not be concerned because people are not retiring until much later in life today. While it is true that increasing numbers of workers are putting off retirement, this presents at best a temporary solution. The fact is that the Baby Boomers will retire, they will retire in large numbers, and it will begin shortly.
Others point to the potential of activating idle labour across the country, through initiatives such as job retraining programs and improving labour mobility so that people move to areas of the country where skilled labour is required. There is however only so much slack in Canada’s economy and certainly not enough idle labour to fully address what is a major shift in Canada’s demographics.
The fact is that, the various solutions suggested will at best act as stop-gap measures that only partially address what is an enormous and historically remarkable demographic shift.
Time to import the goods
So how is Canada to ensure that it secures the skills necessary in order to drive its economy forward and improve living standards as its population ages? The answer will almost certainly lie in large part through immigration, both permanent and temporary.
While permanent migration to Canada has remained relatively stable, the number of temporary foreign workers has increased in recent years at an exponential rate, from approximately 60,000 individuals in 2006 to over 250,000 today. The massive growth of this largely employer-driven program demonstrates that companies are already looking abroad in order to secure the skills needed which they cannot find locally. This trend will undoubtedly continue.
Already immigration represents almost all of Canada’s labour-force growth. Employers which may not have considered hiring foreigners will take seriously this option in the future. This will not be limited only to extractors of raw materials but will pervade across the entire economy from coast to coast.
Employers would accordingly be wise to become familiar with the rules and regulations of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in order that they are prepared to use this tool when required.
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