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Study: Are Canadian jobs more or less skilled than American jobs?

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Released: 2018-06-25

The Canadian economy relies on a skilled workforce to compete in a global economy. Canadian workers are more likely than American workers to hold a postsecondary qualification—most notably college and trades credentials—and generally outperform Americans on literacy and numeracy assessments. However, how these skills are being used in the workplace and how they compare across the two countries has not been previously addressed.

A new Statistics Canada study provides a first look at the occupational skill profiles of jobs held by Canadian and American workers. The study uses integrated data from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies and the Occupational Information Network to examine differences in Canadian and American jobs across 35 different skills. These include skills associated with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (i.e. STEM), such as technology design, operations analysis, programming, and mathematics, as well as skills in complementary areas such as negotiating, complex problem-solving, writing, and resource management.

The study results suggest that among workers aged 25 to 65, the occupational skill requirements in the jobs held by Canadians were significantly higher than the skill requirements in jobs held by Americans. This was the case for 30 of the 35 skills examined. In particular, Canadian jobs had markedly higher skill requirements in STEM skills and in other technical skills, such as installation, equipment maintenance, and repairing.

The Canadian advantage in skills was largest among postsecondary graduates with a non-university credential, such as a college diploma or trades certificate. Compared with their American counterparts, this group held jobs with higher occupational skill requirements across STEM skills, such as operations analysis, programming, technology design, and mathematics, as well as several other technical skills. These results highlight the importance of non-university postsecondary credentials in the Canadian economy.

Among university graduates, Canadians held jobs with higher occupational skill requirements in only one STEM area—mathematics. In contrast, Canadian university graduates generally held jobs with somewhat lower occupational skill level requirements in other areas, such as active listening, writing, critical thinking, active learning, reading comprehension, and persuasion.

The differences in occupational skill requirements in Canada and the United States were largely explained by differences in educational attainment and numeracy and literacy skills of workers in the two countries. Specifically, relatively larger shares of Canadians with college and trades qualifications were employed in engineering, manufacturing, and construction sectors, all of which are strongly associated with the use of STEM skills and other technical skills. In addition, the higher numeracy skills of Canadian workers were associated with employment in jobs with a broader range of occupational skill requirements, including not only numeracy skills but also technical and non-technical skills.


The research paper "Are Canadian Jobs More or Less Skilled than American Jobs?," part of the Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper Series (Catalogue number11F0019M), is now available.

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For more information contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300;

To enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Marc Frenette (613-864-0762; or Kristyn Frank (613-864-0694;, Social Analysis and Modelling Division.

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