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Friday, November 15, 2019
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The missing link: A pan-Canadian skills-mapping system is on the way

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Social media manager, app developer, driverless car engineer and telemedicine physician: what do these jobs have in common? For one thing, none of them existed a decade ago. Although each requires some form of digital expertise, to thrive in any of them you need an array of skills and competencies beyond the digital. This is a growing challenge for Canadians.

As new jobs emerge, Canadians need to know what skills and training will be required for career success. Career development practitioners (CDPs) play a pivotal role in helping Canadians navigate the labour market, including helping clients understand the skills and training requirements associated with various jobs. Because Canada lacks a reliable data source on skills, it can be difficult for CDPs to identify precisely which skills Canadians should invest in. This blog discusses the process of linking skills to occupations and its importance for CDPs and Canadians.

Career development professionals needed

In 2018, the Labour Market Information Council (LMIC) conducted public opinion research surveys identifying the labour market information (LMI) needs and challenges of diverse groups of Canadians. We found that certain groups of Canadians, notably the unemployed (50%) and recent immigrants (45%), struggle to make sense of the information they find. This is where the assistance of career professionals can be instrumental. Studies have shown that individuals who use LMI under the guidance of career professionals have better labour market outcomes. Our survey results also show that understanding the skills needed for various jobs is the second-most-cited LMI need (after wages) among all groups surveyed. When exploring career options or looking for a job, Canadians want to know which skills they may need to acquire to land their desired position. In other words, they need support from CDPs to provide them with LMI and insights on skills.

What skills?

Although there is a great deal of interest in skills, we lack comprehensive data on their demand and supply. On the one hand, this is because skills are notoriously difficult to quantify. On the other, the current infrastructure around data collection is not built to capture information on skills. Various actors in the public and private sectors reflect upon the issue, but they lack a common language or data-collection approach. For example, when looking for information about skills in demand, a Canadian will likely find contradictory information that uses a variety of definitions, classifications and measurements.

Building on the old

A first step toward improving labour market information on skills is having a clearly defined Canadian skills taxonomy. Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) recently released a Skills and Competency Taxonomy that includes 47 distinct skills and hundreds of other work descriptors. The taxonomy builds on a number of existing taxonomies, including the Essential Skill Profiles, Career Handbook and the American O*NET system. This represents a first but important step toward a more complete and shared understanding of skills in Canada.

“When exploring career options or looking for a job, Canadians want to know which skills they may need to acquire to land their desired position.”

Leveraging the taxonomy into usable data and information requires identifying a clear process that links skills to occupations. Several studies have attempted different approaches to this, typically relying on the O*NET taxonomy. However, to apply O*NET skills to the Canadian context, a concordance between the Canadian National Occupational Classification (NOC) and the US Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) must first be built, because O*NET skills are developed and maintained only in relation to the SOC system. Such concordances (sometimes called crosswalks or conversion tables) can lead to information loss because US occupations do not neatly connect with Canadian occupational classifications. As well, the O*NET skills taxonomy is updated slowly and built around American labour markets, which arguably differ structurally from Canadian markets.

To improve how we measure skills in Canada, LMIC, ESDC and Statistics Canada are working on a joint project to explore the best ways to link ESDC’s new Skills and Competencies Taxonomy to Canadian occupations. In a recently published joint report, we introduced a phased approached and well-defined criterion for mapping skills to occupations.

Looking forward

It is important to mention that our skills-to-NOC linkage project is just one of many initiatives that can help ensure that as the world of work changes, Canadians have the right mix of skills to succeed and employers have access to the talent required to grow their businesses. The project will help stakeholders understand how skill needs are evolving and how to improve the quality of information they provide to clients. The skills–NOC linking exercise is a long-term project. As it unfolds, we will continue to consult with external stakeholders (such as CDPs) for feedback to improve the process.

In addition to the skills-mapping project, we will continue to focus on the LMI needs of career development practitioners directly. In the coming weeks, we will publish an Insight report discussing the findings of our survey on how career practitioners use labour market information. The report will identify, among other things, practitioners’ LMI needs and challenges as well as their preferred format for receiving information.


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As an Economist with LMIC, Bolanle Alake-Apata contributes to the planning, designing and execution of research projects in several complex areas related labour market issues. She brings experience conducting quantitative and qualitative research from her previous research and analytic roles with Startup Canada and McMaster University. Alake-Apata is an executive of the Ottawa Economics Association and actively participates in promoting its events and managing its social media presence.
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As an Economist with LMIC, Bolanle Alake-Apata contributes to the planning, designing and execution of research projects in several complex areas related labour market issues. She brings experience conducting quantitative and qualitative research from her previous research and analytic roles with Startup Canada and McMaster University. Alake-Apata is an executive of the Ottawa Economics Association and actively participates in promoting its events and managing its social media presence.
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