Bolstering North America's competitiveness via a coordinated approach to workforce development

Learn more about Matthew Rooney.
Matthew Rooney
Learn more about Tiffany Melvin.
Tiffany Melvin
Stephany Laverty
Guest Author
CyLynn Braswell
Guest Author
Luis Hernandez
Guest Author



Canada, Mexico, and the United States have long partnered to compete in the global marketplace. However, each country has a different system for recognizing skilled trades and for funding, administering, and certifying training. This ingrained inefficiency has reduced our global competitiveness even as companies operate across the three countries. A shifting global economy has made the issue increasingly urgent as countries look to re-shore supply chains and, as a result, need to ensure that their workforces have the necessary skills.

Each of the three countries could be strengthened through a coordinated approach. National apprenticeship and skilled trade systems are intended to provide individuals with jobs and industry with skilled talent now and in the future. However, recent reports of labor market pressures have refocused attention on the ability of these systems to meet this goal, particularly in the manufacturing and logistics sectors. Labor shortages in Canada and the United States and job shortages in Mexico have governments looking to increase representation of “opportunity populations,” those who are traditionally underrepresented in the skilled trade and apprenticeship systems. Both the advanced manufacturing sector and the transportation, distribution, and logistics (TDL) sector face complicated challenges in recruiting and retaining world-class talent. The difficulty in attracting talent in emerging fields with technological advancements, coupled with an aging workforce, has created a labor shortage within a variety of industries. Both advanced manufacturing and TDL have the felt the strain of the growing scarcity of skilled workers. Nearly 2 million manufacturing jobs will be unfilled by 2030 in the United States alone, estimates show (Association for Career & Technical Education, 2021).

A North American approach that aims to create a more inclusive, skilled, and mobile workforce throughout the continent is needed. Better collaboration between and alignment of workforce development systems across North America will result in higher employment rates for opportunity populations, efficient and successful re-skilling, a more ready workforce, lower training costs, and a more mobile labor force. This report provides an overview of skilled trade and apprenticeship systems in the three countries, with a focus on the manufacturing and logistics sectors. The report also identifies inefficiencies in the systems and calls out opportunities to expand representation in the skilled trades. An accompanying report provides specific recommendations for North America to adopt a more unified approach in workforce development.




The North America Workforce Initiative, a joint undertaking co-chaired by the George W. Bush Institute–SMU Economic Growth Initiative and NASCO (North American Strategy for Competitiveness), began in 2016 to develop and test practical approaches to workforce development across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico and issue recommendations to strengthen the region’s global competitiveness.

North America Strategy for Competitiveness (NASCO) is the only tri-national membership organization focused on the competitiveness of North America’s supply chains, environment, and skilled workforce. NASCO is the leading network of North American governments, business, and educational institutions, driven by a common interest in collaboration along commercial corridors and trade networks. Founded in 1994, NASCO advances North America’s competitiveness in the global marketplace. Learn more at