Thursday, October 10, 2013

Finally a good use for labour market data!

Yesterday, the province announced $142.5m to expand engineering facilities at the University of Calgary. Critics complained about this (capital) expenditure when post-secondary (operating) grants had been cut.

As far as I can tell, there is no information about who will pay for the operating costs of educating the 400 engineers that the expanded building can house, although the U of C’s president said:
“We will be looking to partner with government to have the operating funds to bring in those new students. Those conversations are happening right now.”
 Part of the justification of this expenditure is growing demand for engineering space (likely true). The other part of the justification was that Alberta needed more engineers:
“We need a lot of engineers in this province,” Premier Alison Redford said at the event on Wednesday. 
It is unclear if there is any actual demand for more engineers.

If you look at the government’s own labour market demand forecasts, they are projecting below average growth among civil, mechanical, electrical and chemical engineers (+2.5% 2013-2017) and other engineers (+1.5% 2013-2017) (Lines C03 and C04 here). All in this represents about 2800 more engineers employed by 2017.

Existing programs might well meet this demand. Or, occupational churn (i.e., replacing retirees) may require more than 2800 new bodies. It is hard to tell. Of the 50 occupations with the highest vacancy rates, only mechanical engineers are on the list.

No engineers appear on the list of the “oldest” occupations in this 2009 report about Alberta’s Aging Labour Force and Skill Shortages (p.9), although this may reflect a data  exclusion by size of the occupation (I can’t quite tell).

There are engineers (software, civil engineers) listed as subject to short-term high demand (2012-2014) on page 23 of this March 2013 Labour Market Outlook.

Since the expansion won’t be finished until 2016 and then it will take four more years to graduate engineers (so 2020), this is not a solution to any identifiable shortage in government documents. 

Which raises the question of whether this expansion is politically motivated, perhaps rewarding the university that absorbed budget cuts with the least fuss.

-- Bob Barnetson

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