Canada’s Aging Population-Generational Shifts Threaten our Future Workforce

Over the last fifty years, Canada, and much of the industrialized world has seen a shift in the age of their population. Baby-boomers born between 1946 and 1964 were a much larger group than the following generations. As such, while populations continually increase, the percentile represented by different age groups changed dramatically. Our population has gotten older. Even with immigration, the result of having less children, per capita, is telling on the age of our population and the age groups as a percentage of overall population.

In Canada, the population grew from 21,962,032 in 1971 to 38,005,238 in 2020, or by 73.050%. However, when looking at age groups 0 to 19, 20 to 59 (the majority of our workforce), and those 60 plus, the results are disturbing. While Canada’s population increased by 16,043,206 those under 20 decreased by 457,846. This group of future work force went from 39.146% of the population to just 27.145% of the population, while those 60 plus, who have left or will soon be leaving the workforce increased by 5,073456, going from 8.025% of the population to 17.987% of population. The 20 to 59 group, the majority of our workforce, increased by 11,427,598, going from 52.829% of 1971’s population to 60.597% of 2020’s population. Based on the numbers exiting the workforce and those in the under 20 category who will be joining the workforce, these numbers will be further depressed over the next 20 years.

In Alberta, the population grew from 1,665,717 in 1971 to 4,421,876 in 2020, or by 165.464%. By age groups, the under 20 group increased from 685,945 to 1,080,018, an increase of 394,073 or 57.450%. This does not keep up with the overall growth of 165.464%. As a percentage of overall population, under 20’s went from 41.180% of population in 1971 to just 24.424% in 2020. The work force, or 20 to 59 group increased from 806,613 to 2,466,545, an increase of 1,669,640 or 205.790%. This far exceeds the overall growth of 164.464%, but this group is starting to drop out of the work force and the succeeding generation’s (GenX 1965 to 1980, GenY (millennials) 1981 to 1996), GenZ 1997 to 2012, and Gen Alpha 2013 to 2021) numbers are far less than needed to replace this group. The 20 to 59 group was 27.145% of overall population in 1971 and grew to 55.781% in 2020. Much more of the population is driving the economy. Lastly, those 60 and over increased from 120,453 in 1971 to 610,974 in 2020. That is an increase of 490,521 or growth of 407.230%. This group was 7.231% of the overall in 1971, and 13.817% of the 2020 population.

It is little wonder given the hard numbers and evolution of social norms (push for higher education, negative perception of trades, etc.) over the past 50 years, that the workforce is becoming our number one concern and filling seats in post-secondary institutions, for construction apprentices is becoming increasingly more difficult.

This is a problem for Canada, and especially Alberta, that will be with us for generations and will likely not be solved by the advancement of AI and robotics. We need to all be thinking about how we will deal with this ongoing issue for the near term and long term future.