Addressing Atlantic Canada's Talent Needs
The topic of Atlantic Canada’s labour market is often surrounded by commentary about aging boomers and fleeing millennials, both contributing to an imminent talent supply shortage. The premise being that there simply aren’t enough millennials entering through the front door to replace the retirees exiting out the back door. As a recruitment professional, I want to see our young people stay in the region as much as countless other Atlantic Canadians who lament the “move west” for opportunity mentality. To limit the conversation to retention ignores strategies that offer local organizations distinct market advantages while growing our economy.
In a global economy, organizations do not need to halt operations due to limited local resources. Rather, successful organizations look to the world to find the necessary resources and determine how best to acquire them. Attracting people is a more important and more complex endeavor than sourcing inputs such as raw materials or machinery. I believe a ‘global talent supply chain’ exists which offers organizations the opportunity to tap into the most qualified talent pools, regardless of geography.
Industry leaders within Canada’s tech sector, which faces a shortage of programmers and other skilled IT professionals (expected to be more than 200,000 by 2020), have touted progressive immigration policies and global talent as an absolute imperative. Harley Finkelstein, Shopify’s chief operating officer, recently stated “Talent is not defined by borders and if they choose to come to Canada, the entire ecosystem will be better for it. Canada is a country where the best talent from around the world can move here and do their life’s work.” Other organizations, like Enbridge and KPMG, have recognized the benefit of diversity and international talent. Named among Canada’s Top Diversity Employers, their progressive practices have included deliberate steps to create welcoming workplaces for newcomers.
In Atlantic Canada we remain in an employer’s market; meaning there are generally more people than there are available jobs. According to Statistics Canada, unemployment hovers around 10% as a region (8.1% in NS, 14.2% in NL) as compared to the national average of 6.6% (February 2017). This is a significant difference that has dampened the demand for talent in this region. There are still exceptions however, such as highly specialized skills that are in scarce supply and sectors that face chronic labour shortages. In the future, demographers attest Atlantic Canadian employers won’t be immune to the broader talent shortage and will in turn feel the pressure of fewer available and qualified employees.
We are privileged to live in one of the most attractive countries on earth. In fact, U.S. News recently rated Canada the second best overall country in the world. Our standard of living is amongst the very highest. Canadian employers have a leg up on most other countries when looking to attract talented individuals. In light of recent political events and anti-immigration rhetoric south of the border, living and working in Canada has arguably never been more attractive. We have the good fortune of having an enviable brand as a country on the world stage. However, brand image alone isn’t enough to attract talent. Organizations with an interest in global human resources strive to make themselves attractive to individuals who possess the skills they require.
The savviest employers have shifted their thinking and look at hiring less locally and more globally. Luckily, people are mobile. Increased immigration to our region largely depends on how interested employers are in recruiting permanent international employees. Regional employers like Ganong Bros., Limited in St. Stephen, NB have been relying on international workers to address talent shortages for many years. They have been vocal about the need for policies to help these skilled women and men come and live in the region. Truthfully lengthy processing times and challenges achieving permanent status are often cited as barriers to effective use of immigration to address talent needs. New programs like the Atlantic Immigration Pilot launched in March 2017, aim to attract and retain immigrants to Atlantic Canada as permanent residents. With a goal to bring in 2,000 new workers and their families as a part of the Atlantic Growth Strategy, regional leaders aim to address challenges faced by employers in sectors with chronic labour shortages and those expected to face such challenges.
The much talked about Now or Never: An Urgent Call to Action for Nova Scotians (a.k.a. Ivany Report) identified immigration as a key strategy to help grow our economy, and now more than ever Canada can position itself as an attractive place to settle. While other countries look for ways to keep immigrants out, we can take advantage of a more global mindset by accessing talented women and men from around the world. Forward-thinking organizations like those cited above have already embraced a global workforce mentality that relies on effective immigration. They are using this thinking to their advantage and serve as an example for the rest of us.
There is no doubt in my mind that a scarcity of talent is beginning to impact Atlantic Canada and will more so in the years ahead. While the impact is likely to vary by sector and geography, employers’ success in combatting talent shortages will depend on how well they can access global talent and attract people to our shores, while also exploring parallel strategies. If we continue to look only to those people in our own backyard our region will submerge in talent shortages that will have an adverse effect on our ability to compete. We must broaden our thinking and look at new ways of accessing human resources to ensure our region’s future growth and success.
Previously published by the Chronicle Herald April 7, 2017.