Attracting Young Talent to Bridge the Workforce Gap

by | Aug 21, 2023 | Blog

By: Stefan Rutkowski, Director, Operations, CAREERS

Despite rising costs and supply chain challenges, Alberta’s economy remains robust, with the manufacturing sector a key driver of innovation and economic growth. Yet a significant challenge persists—there is a shortage of skilled talent needed for the manufacturing industry to achieve its growth potential.

Government of Alberta data reports that, last year, only 6.3% of the manufacturing workforce was aged 15-24. In contrast, about 20% of the province’s 130,500 manufacturing employees were 55 and older. This represents a skill pool that will be lost to retirement in the coming years, creating increased job vacancies that cannot be filled by the existing workforce. While high levels of immigration into Alberta will fill some vacancies, it isn’t enough to meet industry demands. Attracting more youth into the sector is essential in responding to the forecasted labour shortage, but most companies don’t have the resources to address this widespread workforce scarcity alone. This is where CAREERS comes in as a strategic ally, dedicated to propelling companies forward by connecting them with a vibrant pool of young interns and apprentices.

The importance of attracting youth into in-demand occupations and to build a strong, Alberta-based workforce was identified over 25 years ago, when a growing labour shortage threatened the sustainability of Alberta’s key industries. In response, CAREERS was established in 1997 as a non-profit organization to collaborate with schools across the province, connecting senior high school students to paid internships with industry partners. Since then, more than 30,000 students have explored potential career paths through initiatives like the Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP), getting a head start on their careers. While participating in these off-campus programs (RAP, which is administered through Alberta Industry Training, being one of these programs), students are supervised by their school and earn credits towards their high school diplomas. Through our close partnerships with high schools, CAREERS supports youth across Alberta, from its urban centers to the most remote regions of the province. This year, we are targeting to place 3,500 students in internship positions across Alberta. And as an educational non-profit, our services, and the work we do with employers are free!

ICT Intern Adrian DeWit at ArrKann Trailer & RV

Our mission extends beyond merely filling vacancies; it encompasses a holistic transformation of student to worker, where the desires of the student are met alongside the needs of the employer. The fusion of classroom learning with work-world exposure is critical in achieving our mission of meeting workforce needs in high-demand occupations. The key to this process lies in the combination of a mentor’s guidance, a safe work environment, and meaningful tasks, which lay the foundation for launching satisfying careers for young people and building an engaged workforce for companies.

The results of this approach are impressive: Over 80% of youth who embark on their trades journeys through RAP persist in their chosen trade after high school. Many of these youth will acquire their journeyperson ticket in their early 20s, often continuing their work with the organization they were originally placed with in high school.

“I would recommend CAREERS to everyone who has any interest in a trade. Being able to get a jump on a lifetime job is amazing. It truly lifts a lot of stress off your shoulders knowing you’re already into a solid career after you graduate high school. I am a better person, I’m nicer, slightly funnier, and way more open minded. This career is definitely what I want to do for my life, and I couldn’t have found out without this program.” — Cale Lindstrom, Electrician Apprentice

While skilled trades have been the primary focus of our internships, with over 2000 placements forecasted for this year, we take an adaptive approach to addressing evolving workforce demands. We are expanding into the field of Information and Communications Technology (ICT), a sector experiencing rapid growth driven by a surge in automation, artificial intelligence, and robotics. Furthermore, our reach extends to industries like agriculture, forestry, and health, with ongoing exploration of other sectors. In our expansion, we are dedicated to identifying effective ways of engaging Indigenous youth and young women—groups that have historically been underrepresented in the workforce.

Young Women in Trades and Technologies Spring Camp

Through the Manufacturing and Export Enhancement Cluster, CAREERS sees a promising opportunity to engage with members and support their workforce development goals. And we make this process straightforward: We collaborate with the employer to identify suitable internship opportunities, and then connect with respective school divisions to select enthusiastic high school students. Resumes are provided to the employer for review, and once the ideal candidate is chosen, the employer signs an off-campus agreement with the school, and the student is ready to start work.

The key to success lies in nurturing the internship experience. When the employer provides engaged mentorship, meaningful work, and a safe environment to youth, they are more inclined to consider staying with the same company and industry long-term. When youth have positive work experiences, it resonates beyond the duration of the internship and informs career choices. When we get this process right, we can create a future where the vibrant energy of youth finds its way to Alberta’s growing manufacturing industry. With CAREERS as your partner, we will build a bridge that connects the aspirations of young people with your operations, now and into the future.

We encourage MEE Cluster members to reach out to us and discuss how we may be able to support you. This year, we are working with over 1400 employers across the province, and we would love to hear from you. You can reach us via our website or you can call our main line at 780-426-3414. If you want to reach out directly, you can contact me by email.