Alberta’s construction industry claimed a labour shortage in the mid 2000s. A labour shortage often makes employers antsie because wages rise and workers will put up with less bullshit (i.e., the labour market starts working for workers). Employers and the provincial government vowed to hire more under-represented groups to ease the shortage (this typically means women, youth, aboriginal and disabled workers--this is a pretty standard promise that never seems to actually play out). At the same time, the feds made it easier (i.e., cheaper) to hire temporary foreign workers (TFWs).
Our initial question was what effect did immigration policy changes have on female participation in the construction industry? Women are generally under-represented in construction (14%) and the trades (7%). You’d think, in a tight labour market, female participation would rise. After some really boring angst around the data, what we found was this:
- Participation rates of Canadian women in the trades, transport and equipment operator occupations stayed static over time (about 7%) but the overall number rose.
- Participation rates by Canadian men in these occupations fell as did the overall number.
- Participation rates by TFWs (almost all men) in these occupations rose (as did overall numbers) and this change is correlated in a statistically significant way to the decline in Canadian men.
It is also unclear what relationship TFWs have to female participation. An interesting thought experiment is what do you suppose would have happened to female participation had the feds not made it easier for employers to hire TFWs? We suspect that employers would have taken steps to increase female participation rates, perhaps by changing workplace practices to make the jobs more appealing to women. In this way, federal immigration policy may have retarded employment equity.
-- Bob Barnetson