Steel and Other Industries Facing Workforce Skills Shortages

As the national industry association for a major Canadian economic sector, the CSPA is constantly assessing its key competitiveness challenges.   And because steel is integral to so many other industrial supply chains, we often find ourselves discussing shared competitiveness and public policy issues.

In the past few months, these discussions have focused increasingly on the growing need for more skilled tradespeople across a broad spectrum of Canadian industry.  Despite unemployment rates that remain stubbornly high on average, the need to attract more skilled trades is a real concern in many industries.

Many Canadians are aware of the skilled labour challenges facing Canada’s growing energy sector.  CSPA had the opportunity just this month to meet with people in that industry, and with Alberta Premier Alison Redford, for whom this issue is front and center.  We’ve had similar discussions recently with other important Canadian industries, from automotive to chemicals to railways.  The Canadian Chamber of Commerce ranks it as a top competitiveness issue and has launched a new process to develop solutions (  Other major industry associations, including Canadian Manufacturing and Exporters (, also place high priority on workforce skills issues.

In the steel sector, we face the same kinds of technological and demographic pressures as do others. This challenge will grow in the future due to the retirement bubble with our current workforces, and the growing complexity of modern, innovative production systems and more sophisticated steelmaking processes.  To help us understand the scope of the skills issue, the Canadian Steel Trade and Employment Congress (CSTEC), a collaboration of the steel industry and the United Steelworkers union, recently published a major analysis of the employment prospects in Canada’s steel industry.  It points to the need for an influx of skilled tradespeople in all parts of the “broader” steel industry – steel producers, pipe and rolling mills, construction fabricators, foundries, and service centers that are present in many communities acrossCanada.

You can read the study in English at  or in French at

A few facts from the CSTEC study:

  • Over 100 thousand employed today
  • Approximately 25 thousand new hires will be needed over the next five years
  • Of that total, the industry must recruit or retain 5-10 thousand skilled tradespeople

Our industry is looking beyond simply filling its needs for skilled people.  As the CSTEC study documents, the industry has five long-term business and human resource goals:

  1. Zero accidents
  2. Zero product defects
  3. 100% reliability for on-time delivery
  4. Ongoing productivity gains
  5. Supporting more well-paid jobs by securing new and existing markets based on new products and a reputation for quality and delivery.

Skilled, dedicated workers are essential to achieving these goals, and CSPA will be working with its current employees, governments, academia, unions and others to develop new approaches to recruiting, training, and retraining skilled workers.  CSPA’s member companies offer well-paid employment and the opportunity to work with the world’s more versatile industrial material.  Steel is used in over ¾ of all manufactured goods.  If a future in Canada’s steel industry interests you, and you want to learn more about current and future needs, you can start by checking out member directory at or search other steel trades resources at CSTEC (

- Ron Watkins

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