The Canadian Federation of Independent Business says the number of job vacancies dropped slightly during the second quarter of this year but stressed that there are still 289,800 full- and part-time private sector jobs that remain unfilled.

The association representing small and mid-size business also spoke out Thursday in favour of the controversial temporary workers program in a Twitter chat with Employment and Social Development Minister Jason Kenney.

"Many CFIB members would like to see lower-skilled TFWs (temporary foreign workers) qualify for permanent residence," tweeted CFIB president Dan Kelly during the chat.

Kenney used the Twitter chat to defend the Canada Jobs Grant Program, which sees Ottawa, the provinces and businesses sharing equally — up to a total of $15,000 — the cost of training a worker for an unfilled job.

The so-called job grant has been opposed by some provinces as an intrusion on their jurisdiction, one they say they cannot afford.

Skills mismatch

"Key problem is the skills mismatch: too many jobs without people and people without jobs," Kenney tweeted.

He also tweeted about the apprenticeship job creation tax credit, which provides employers a credit toward the salary of a first- or second-year apprentice, and called on the provinces to relax regulations to allow more apprentices on job sites.

The CFIB vacancy report released earlier Thursday showed a 5,000-vacancy drop from the previous quarter, reflecting Canada's relatively high unemployment rate.

In July, the jobless rate rose one-tenth of a point to 7.2 per cent as the economy shed 39,000 workers.

The smallest businesses had the greatest difficulty filling vacancies, according to Ted Mallett, CFIB’s chief economist and vice-president. Firms with fewer than 19 employees reported a vacancy rate of 4.5 per cent, compared to 2.4 per cent in the overall economy.

The CFIB’s tally of vacancies differs slightly from Statistics Canada's latest number — which estimated 225,000 vacancies in May.

The problem is finding qualified people, Mallett said. Canada's construction industry has a 3.5 per cent vacancy rate – one of the highest of any sector, though that is less that the 4.4 per cent peak reached in 2007.

The Canadian Construction Association took part in the Twitter chat, saying that the industry faces severe labour shortages.

"It's critical that secondary schools re-introduce and expand vocational training programs. German system a good model," Kenney tweeted.

He also touted the Federal Skilled Trades Program, which brings skilled tradespeople to Canada.

Wants to revamp EI

The federal government is attempting to revamp employment insurance to encourage seasonal workers to accept jobs further away from home. The CFIB's report shows Saskatchewan has the highest vacancy rate in the country, followed by Alberta.

Labour organizations were critical of the CFIB and small businesses in the Twitter chat for failing to pay enough to lure workers and expecting Ottawa to admit foreign workers to fill jobs.

The Alberta Federation of Labour said the chat gave Kenney and the CFIB the chance to "perpetuate the labour shortage myth." It pointed out there are 6.4 unemployed Canadians for every unfilled job.

"The low-wage employers that the CFIB represents are using this myth about labour shortages to justify bad public policy, like the expansion of Temporary Foreign Worker Program," the AFL said.