Express Entry’s targeted occupations: How many trades workers does Canada need?

Trades are one of five occupational sectors that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has chosen to prioritize through Express Entry category-based draws in 2023.

Express Entry category-based draws were introduced earlier in 2023 by the Canadian federal government as a means of leveraging immigration to address labour market gaps in five specific occupational categories*.

*2023 Express Entry categories include healthcare; science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); transport; trades; and agriculture/agri-food.

To aid key employment sectors with some of the largest labour market gaps in this country, IRCC introduced category-based selection draws for Express Entry earlier this year.

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The first-ever category-based draw for Express Entry took place on June 28 and – as of the time of writing – there have been four more category-based draws for these five occupational groups since then.

Note: The primary difference between “standard” Express Entry draws and the new category-based draws is the emphasis placed on a candidate’s Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) scores. While standard draws use CRS scores as their primary way of ranking candidates, the newer draws prioritize candidates with specific work experience.

Why trades were chosen as a targeted Express Entry category

According to Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), “skilled trades are in high demand, rewarding and essential to communities across Canada.” Further, ESDC projects that, to meet nationwide demand for skilled trades work, more than 256,000 new apprentices “are needed over the next five years.”

In addition, according to a Government of Canada news release from August this year, “the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum estimates that over 122,000 new journeypersons will be required to sustain workforce certification across Red Seal trades in Canada” between 2022 and 2026.

Note: The Red Seal is a program that develops standards and exams for Red Seal trades. A tradesperson who passes the Red Seal exam receives a Red Seal endorsement, which is proof that a tradesperson has met the national standard in their trade.

Taken together, these projections and estimates validate why the Canadian government has chosen to emphasize the immigration of candidates with work experience in trade occupations through category-based draws this year.

How many trades workers does Canada need?

On top of the demand projections above, courtesy of the ESDC and the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, BuildForce Canada estimates that the construction industry across Canada must recruit 299,200 new workers by 2032. This projection is driven by the fact that 20% of the 2022 labour force in this field (245,100 workers) is expected to retire soon.

Additionally, ESDC operates an online tool called the Canadian Occupational Projection System (COPS). According to this tool, when looking at the occupational outlook for “trades helpers and labourers”, job openings are projected to grow by nearly 20,000 between 2022 and 2031.

More specifically, the following outlines exactly how four different factors are expected to contribute to new job openings within this occupational group over the coming years.

  • 3,400 (17%) of job openings will be due to “expansion demand”
  • 11,800 (60%) of job openings will be created due to “retirements”
  • 1,800 (9%) of job openings will be due to “other replacement demand”
  • 2,600 (13%) of job openings will be due to “emigration”

Cumulatively, these figures signal that Canada will require thousands of new workers in skilled trade occupations to work towards correcting this industry’s labour shortages.

What opportunity does this present for prospective immigrants to Canada?

According to the 2022 year-end Express Entry report, immigration candidates with experience in trades occupations were among the top recipients of Invitations to Apply (ITAs) for permanent residence in Canada last year.

Specifically, Cooks were among the top 15 primary occupations of Canadian immigrants who received an ITA in 2022. This continues a trend from 2021. That year, people in this occupation were among the top five ITA recipients by primary occupation.

This can be seen as an indication, even prior to the introduction of category-based draws, that the federal government was aiming to welcome immigrants to this country who are able to fill labour market gaps in the skilled trades.

Add to this a poignant quote from last year by Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion until July 2023, which further highlights the existence of significant employment opportunities for Canadian immigrants in the trades industry.

Hussen said, referencing the need for skilled immigrants to aid Canada’s housing crisis, “we actually need more people, skilled immigrants, to also help us in the building trades and the construction sector of our economy. We need those workers to actually come in and help us build the housing that Canadians need.”

Appropriately, this provides reason to believe that prospective Canadian immigrants with recent employment experience in skilled trades may be able to establish meaningful careers if they come to this country through category-based Express Entry draws for trade occupations.

History of trades Express Entry draws to date

To date, IRCC has issued one round of invitations specifically for eligible Express Entry candidates with recent work experience in trades occupations.

This draw took place on August 3, when 1,500 immigration candidates with work experience in the trades were invited to apply for permanent residence in Canada. Candidates in this draw had to have a minimum CRS of 388 to be considered.

Just days before this Trades category-based draw, data obtained from IRCC by the Globe and Mail noted that category-based draws for those with experience working in trades occupations would add up to “three to four” percent of all ITAs issued under Express Entry for the rest of this calendar year.

Click here to view the results of every Express Entry draw conducted by IRCC. The hyperlinked page will be updated anytime a new draw occurs.

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