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Generation Gap Leaves Skilled Trades in Northwestern Ontario Short on Employees

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Data from the Northwest Training and Adjustment Board (NATB) reveals how rapidly the mining industry of Northwestern Ontario is aging: half of all its industry workers are Baby Boomers, and nearly all of its workforce in other skilled trades (railroad, civil service, mechanical and technical fields) are part of the 50+ generation as well. There are several possible explanations for this trend, including a lack of opportunities for Gen Xers over the past ten years, dwindling training opportunities for young workers, and a population whose entire work history is colored by recession and downturn.

Generation X should be there to take over the positions of aging employees looking toward retirement in Northwestern Ontario’s primary industries. Yet there is a significant gap in age between who is pulling most of the weight in the labor force and those seeking employment in skilled trades. Downsizing and recession forced many workers now in their late 30’s and 40’s to seek employment in other regions during their younger years. As attitudes about university changed in the 1990’s, some of the best potential workers in Northwestern Ontario left for school and did not return.

Area Millenial’s have a different outlook: they are interested in taking on jobs in mining, forestry, and other skilled trades. Unfortunately, they are finding securing a career in these industries difficult. One issue is a lack of training. Apprenticeship programs have diminished and many companies are not interested in hiring university-educated Millenial’s. Baby Boomers tend to believe this younger generation does not understand how rising through the ranks of a skilled trade takes time and dedication.

Nothing can be done to replace a missing generation of employees in places like the Kenora district, but there is still hope Northwestern Ontario’s skilled trade industries can be revitalized by young workers. The NATB suggests better apprenticeship initiatives, a lift in the lumber industry, and a larger-than-usual group of young adults reaching an employable age may help workers over 50 bridge the gap back to their counterparts ages 15 to 30.