The federal minister responsible for immigration, Jason Kenney, made the prediction for local business during his visit to St. John’s.
“Immigration is going to, I think, I predict, continue to grow in importance in Atlantic Canada, including Newfoundland, because of the skill shortages, because of the aging of the population,” he said.
“We don’t really have much choice but to try to address that partly through immigration.”
Bringing in new workers from other jurisdictions is not a new idea. As The Telegram reported in September, temporary foreign workers have been gaining ground with local employers finding themselves facing immediate shortages.
Fly-in, fly-out operations are being proposed to fill the rush of skilled trades and construction management positions for rapidly expanding mining operations in Labrador West. For example, flying workers in and out of site is being considered for construction of the Kami iron ore mine, according to the environmental impact statement filed for that project.
However, “during operations and maintenance, (the company) aims to hire a residential workforce,” it states.
Hiring new Canadians, people already living near the existing business, is a far more attractive option for employers than transporting workers into and out of the area as needed. It is generally cheaper and avoids both regulatory hurdles and logistical challenges — all suffocating for smaller businesses.
For Newfoundland and Labrador, there is a financial incentive to see new Canadians hired over outside workers. There are tax considerations, and temporary foreign workers are likely to send more of their earnings outside the province, rather than injecting their paycheques into the local economy.
On the other hand, immigration provides both employees and potential new business owners who can fill labour market needs long term, adding to business growth and provincial coffers.
With this in mind, the provincial government published its strategy for immigration in 2007. At the time, Newfoundland and Labrador was attracting an average 400 new Canadians annually. The province set a goal of attracting between 1,200 and 1,500 immigrants a year within five years of publication.
The release of the immigration strategy was followed by the creation of the Office of Immigration and Multiculturalism, the publication of a multiculturalism policy and the release of an “Employers’ guide to hiring immigrants and international students in Newfoundland and Labrador.”
Yet, attracting more new Canadians, having them fill more vacant positions with local businesses long term, will ultimately require there be more new Canadians available to hire and that they be matched with employers.
Recently, the St. John’s Board of Trade has been advocating on behalf of its members for an increase in the number of economic-class immigrants welcomed into the country each year.
“Newfoundland and Labrador, the country’s leader in economic growth for the last three years, is losing hundreds of millions in contracts, future business, and opportunities because we physically do not have enough people to do the work that presents itself,” the board stated in an August submission to Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
The economic class of immigrants is the largest category for immigration. In all, Canada welcomed about 250,000 people into the country in 2011 and more than 155,000 were economic immigrants.
The majority of these skilled workers set down roots in major cities — about 60 per cent in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver — but the percentage choosing larger centres has been declining over the last decade.
Manitoba, New Brunswick and Newfoundland were the first provinces to operate provincial nominee programs — beginning their attempts to draw in workers with specific skill sets in 1999.
So far, this province has struggled to attract new Canadians, but there have been improvements. Last year, for example, the provincial nominee program had 526 applicants, up from 105 in the year the provincial immigration strategy was launched.
The provincial government recommends local business managers and employers touch base with organizations offering services to new Canadians in their area and provide information on any open positions they have available.
It is also suggested employers participate in networking sessions, steering committees, community groups or cultural events with new Canadians if they are seeking workers.
International recruiters have a role to play, with organizations like the St. John’s Board of Trade able to guide employers to credible enterprises.
“Permanently increasing the number of annual immigrants to Atlantic Canada by 25 per cent above 2011 levels for 20 years would require a huge shift in immigration policy. APEC estimates such a policy change would boost the labour force by about 12,000 by 2031,” the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council has stated.
In tomorrow’s edition, The Telegram looks at another part of the labour solution — tapping into the underutilized workforce.