Labour shortages – cause and effect

The government loves to talk about the ‘lowest unemployment rate in 30 years’ and beam from ear to ear about how this proves the success of their economic program. The reality is that the mix of high out-migration, seasonal employment, declining birth rates, declining students and lack of immigration has led to a serious problem in New Brunswick.

The newly formed NB Biz Council stated last week that the labour shortage was the number one issue facing New Brunswick during this election. Another labour-related group called for Jody Carr’s resignation. Business and labour groups have been sounding the alarm for several years on this issue.

How could a labour shortage happen in New Brunswick?

There are labour shortages in basically three categories:

1) Low wage industries generally ($6.50-$9.00/hour wages). These jobs are mostly found in retail, services and some manufacturing.

2) Skilled trades such as welders, electricians, etc. The pull of Alberta is becoming too strong for these folks and we have not been backfilling the stock.

3) Specialized, niche technical skills in IT, health care, etc.

There are a number of toxic elements that mixed together create the situation we face today.

One, chronically high seasonal employment coupled with 14 straight years of net out-migration. There are 100,000 seasonally employed people in New Brunswick and an increasing number of folks are opting for Alberta rather than 5 months of work + pogey. Alberta and its companies have long preferred immigration from Atl. Canada to international sources. This is putting pressure on seasonal employers in fish, farming and certain manufacturing industries – as well as tourism.

Two, the decline in the student population has put more pressure on the retail and other sectors that rely heavily on part time workers.

Three, the lack of immigration. Immigration has always been used in the large urban centres to backfill entry level jobs in retail, transportation, manufacturing, services, etc. However, for some, yet to be determined reason, we always focus on ‘skilled’ immigrants or ‘immigrant investors’ and the like.

Four, the lack of a coherent industry training vision. This is a problem both of government and industry and the post-secondary educational sector.

The solution? The province needs a people strategy (not a mix of training or immigration or post-secondary or birth-stimulation strategies) that takes a long term view.

Here are a few quick ideas:

1) Tie immigration to the entry level needs in the economy. There are people in the world for whom $8/hour would be a good job. The old guru, Francis Maguire once casually said in a meeting that we should attract 10,000 Guatemalans. People chuckled. They shouldn’t have. He’s right.

2) Have an in-migration strategy for technical and niche skills in IT, health care, etc. There are numerous examples of expatriate New Brunswickers that have moved back to NB for these types of jobs. NB happens to be a great place to live and work. But, note to the government, only do this will real jobs. The Premier’s little road show a few years ago was a total flop, I am told, because he did not take any real IT or high end jobs with him. People were told to go to the nbjobs website and were greeted with 15 call centres.

3) Develop a robust industry training strategy for manufacturing and skilled trades but link it to the immigration recommendation in 1). Stream new immigrants right into the NBCC and roll in language training.

4) Tie long term industry development goals with the people strategy. For example, if NB wants to develop a cluster of IT animation firms, or language translation firms, or aircraft maintenance or whatever, it should bring online new streams of talent on an annual basis to feed these targeted industries.

5) Attract more foreign students into the post-secondary education system – but not the rich ones. The ones that need to work part time and through the summer. This should bolster the workforce needs at the retail and services level.

In conclusion, instead of the endless claptrap coming out of the politicians on this issue, someone needs to come forward first identifying the seriousness of the problem and second proposing a concrete, well funded and well resourced plan to deal with it.

The lowest unemployment rate in 30 years doesn’t sound so ‘special’ now does it?

Maybe you’ll now think twice when you hear it repeated daily during the election.

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0 Responses to Labour shortages – cause and effect

  1. Anonymous says:

    I’d say more analysis needs to be done before all those on EI are said to be ‘seasonal’. According to statistics from Statscan, fewer than half of workers are seasonal, meaning that more than half only collect EI one time over many successive years.

    So I’d say its not employees that need to be looked at, its EMPLOYERS. This is an even smaller number of people who are the ones, I suggest, who have gotten used to using EI as a means of controlling their workforce. While its been some time since I’ve been looking, I can still remember, and still hear of, the employers who will tell people “we’ll give you enough weeks for EI”

    Over half on EI are there because their companies have failed or they have been let go for one reason or another. So again, where are the studies on labour in New Brunswick? Its the biggest issue, and nobody even talks to the people involved.

    If you go to or a job board, there certainly isn’t a great amount of positions for electricians or highly skilled workers. The VAST majority are in low paid retail jobs, and its not surprising when you look at housing costs and ‘the wal mart effect’ that people are headed for Alberta.

    That’s not unusual, travelling across Canada the vast majority of sucky retail jobs are being filled now by seniors. That’s why the government in Ontario got rid of the ‘forced retirement’ at 65.

    However, immigration is a NATIONAL department. And like investment, it is extremely hard to get a new immigrant to come to NB, when they can go to Calgary, BC, or southern ontario where there is a wealth of jobs as well as a community of their peers. Just go talk to a visible minority in New Brunswick and ask them how much they feel a part of the social fabric. One of my best friends in high school was from India, his parents had bought the local convenience store, and after getting their kids through university they packed up and left. He said he was tired of people making fun of how he talked and getting stared at wherever he went.

    The point is, those Guatamalans are fully free to come to NB, but they don’t-and why would they? So again, the presented solution is merely restating the problem.

    As for population, that is a HUGE issue that has been faced by many. It’s a world wide phenomena, and a worldwide fight. Much of it is simply due to the fact people can’t afford big families. And all you have to do is look at the immense wealth in the world and who has it to know how to resolve the issue. Whether people WANT to get involved to resolve it is another question.

  2. Cooker Boy says:

    “The point is, those Guatamalans are fully free to come to NB, but they don’t-and why would they? “

    The issue is that south america is a very poor population, that once they have funds to get away prefer going to the US where they spanish is the unofficial 2nd language. Add to the fact that they probably think of Canada as a barron ice land due to a lack of education about our country.

    I think we would have more success with europeans and asians. But I agree, we do need a strategy. EGM’s John Thompson is working hard on this type of initiative. However, how are we going to attract immigrants when we can’t even hold onto our existing population base?

  3. Anonymous says:

    Monster is a horrible choice to make your point. Most local high end poistions are posted on

  4. David Campbell says:

    I realize the immigration issue is contentious but I still believe that it must be part of an overall ‘people strategy’. We are not producing enough young people locally to fill that large segment of jobs I mentioned above. We will need immigrants to fill those jobs. Now, how to get them and keep them. I still think if we can target a specific country or small group of countries we could build some connectivity here. Having a community of Guatemalan-Canadians living here would help attract more. Note: I am not advocating Guatemala – I prefer Brazil for somewhat obvious reasons. As for keeping them here, again, there are a million immigrants in Toronto driving cabs, working in call centres, retail, etc. Their kids are attending UofT and becoming doctors and the circle of life rolls on.

  5. Cooker Boy says:

    I’m not saying we shouldn’t do it, just highlighting the barriers for immigration to our region/country…

    I do admit I find it perplexing that we say there are not jobs, yet we want immigration to address a looming labour shortage. As you have stated on many occasions, there are 100k or so on EI in this province that should be able to accomodate the holes in the retail/services sector. The bigger issue is that they have no incentive to get off EI and either work or go to school to acquire the skills to get a higher paying job. Retail/services might not be a glorious career like a lawyer or doctor, but as you mentionned it’s about the cycle. If you do not have the education and experience, you have to start somewhere, n’est-pas?

    I think many of today’s labour issues are because of a failed federal strategies that have encouraged poggey(not talking about seasonal workers here) to remain on assitance. The big complaint that I hear from most welfar and EI recipients is that if they do work in retail, they lose health benefits that are accorded to them. I think it’s time for the goverment(Feds/prov) to push the private sector to add these plans to provide incentives for potential employees. Either that or, I shreek, a federally run program that pays for low income workers health benefits.

  6. Anonymous says:

    True, but how many more cab drivers are really needed? Immigration is federal, you can do like Manitoba or NS and start up a regional Immigration department and HOPE that they choose your province, but the stats still aren’t in on whether thats been successful.

    Again, to go back to my earlier point, along with that you need a POLITICAL angle. And it isn’t coming from the current crop of parties. Perhaps the Atlantica Party gets off the ground there is hope. In Quebec the people are very political, for either good reasons (quebec population falling) or bad reasons (the ‘ethnic vote’ is more likely to vote against separation) billions have been spent to get immigrants into Quebec by the FEDERAL government.

    Again, that looks like it should be an “Atlantica” issue, even combined with the prairies. But unless it gets political, it goes nowhere.

    It’s against the charter to go to Brazil and say “we’ll give you tons of money if you’ll STAY in NB”. Thats servitude. In fact, keep something in mind, south americans have lots of poverty, but so do we. One thing they have that we don’t is a POLITICAL population which is challenging their governments. A few years ago Brazil elected a fairly left wing government, and now Venezuela and Bolivia have as well, while Columbia’s government has been taking a page from their books and is legalizing the harvest of cocaine.

    If you look at United Nations surveys, one of the great ironies is that South American people are among the happiest people in the world. This isn’t surprising, from my personal experience I can’t name a single person who is content with the career aspect of their life-except my wife and myself.

    That’s a small poll admittedly, but I suspect in a province where X number survive on EI, a program which can be cut on the whim of government and in a society where many see it as being akin to leprosy, as well as the outmigration, obviously a case can be made for a displeased population. I should correct that, among the happiest people I know are the recently retired, the ones whose homes are paid off and have a decent pension.

    Again, go to the website. Go check out any number of canadian organizations who are attacking this same exact problem of declining populations. Although not all provinces face it, plenty of areas WITHIN provinces face it. Northern Ontario, Southern Alberta and Northeastern BC. So people need to stop seeing these as just local provincial problems. The feds are the real culprits, and if you ignore the issue federally, nothing will ever change-unless you’ve got an oilsands in your backyard.

  7. Cooker Boy says:

    How many US states were having this same conversation when the Gold Rush hit California and everyone flocked there? They often say, history is the best indicator for future behaviour…