Unemployed, ‘underutilized’ workers are another piece in the labour puzzle
In this February 2012 file photo, Ashley Jones of St. John’s, a Techsploration Orientation to Trades and Technology Program graduate, works on removing spark plugs from a Ford Mustang engine at the Prince Philip Drive campus of the College of the North Atlantic. Education and training will be key to maintaining a strong labour force, but employers will have to start looking at bringing in incentives and tapping the traditionally underutilized workforce, if they want to be sure to fill long-vacant positions during the labour crunch. — File photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
Having a workforce large enough to sustain businesses through the labour crunch, now and into the future, will be determined in part by the ability to add new, skilled workers to the provincial labour pool.
As The Telegram reported this week, immigration is up and the number of temporary foreign workers in the region has more than doubled since 2007. At the same time, the government is attempting to tackle a pairing of high unemployment levels and vacant jobs in parts of the province.
“This suggests that those currently unemployed either lack the skills to be hired for the available jobs, or are unwilling to apply for or accept the available jobs, because of the compensation offered, the nature of the work or the location of the job,” states the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council in “Meeting the skills challenge: Five key labour market issues facing Atlantic Canada.”
The federal government has directed employment insurance reforms at the labour mismatch.
Yet, for employers looking to fill positions today, the question is how they might draw unemployed, skilled workers to their job openings.
“Labour mobility can be influenced by many factors, including occupation licensing and related regulations; relative wages, tax rates and cost of living; and pension benefits,” the APEC study notes.
Incentives have a role to play, with some employers now offering to help cover travel costs for individuals willing to make the run to and from major centres for work, for example.
Another example of an incentive would be discount accommodations for those willing to move from the current homes for work. In Happy Valley-Goose Bay, the Woodward Group of Companies offers its workers in the community apartments at a discount rate.
Education is also a key for reducing the unemployment rate in the province and getting more workers into the workforce.
A Statistics Canada look at unemployment by level of education shows 49 per cent of those unemployed in Atlantic Canada have a high school education or less. In comparison, nine per cent of those who are unemployed have a university degree.
“If unemployed Atlantic Canadians are to be fully utilized (in the labour force), there will need to be a strong focus on education and training along with strategies to encourage employment of young people,” notes the latest APEC look at labour.
With a bit of outreach, advocates say, managers and business owners can pick up more trained workers in the so-called “underutilized workforce.” This includes women, older workers, members of aboriginal groups and people with disabilities.
Kelly White , executive director of the Coalition of Persons with Disabilities in Newfoundland and Labrador, has called for employers to take notice of untapped potential in the 75,000 people with disabilities in this province again and again, including before the Hebron Public Review Commission.
“We did do the submission to Hebron and we did tell them that we don’t think there’s a big uptake on the benefits agreement on hiring diversity, in terms of hiring persons with disabilities,” White said, speaking with The Telegram this past week.
Her organization is working with the companies involved in the megaproject, specifically ExxonMobil and WorleyParsons.
That said, she doesn’t know of active programs to attract workers with disabilities by small- and medium-sized businesses in need of workers. “I think often times the accommodations, they feel, is going to be too expensive,” White said.
Yet accommodations can be as simple as keeping a work space free of clutter for persons with low vision or changing out an existing desk with a wheelchair-accessible desk that can move up and down. “It’s such an easy solution that’s often overlooked,” White said.
Older workers with an interest in re-entering the workforce post-retirement or taking on a new challenge are already being chased by employers, particularly in the service industry. New job advertisements, by businesses such as Kent, are targeting older workers.
A basic accommodation employers can offer that may attract older workers is flexible scheduling — breaking up full-time jobs into part-time positions if requested.
“If two people fill one job,” asked Lisa Pike, director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Business Coalition, “isn’t that better than having nobody do it?”
Megaprojects such as Hebron, Hibernia South and the St. Lawrence fluorspar mine reactivation project, to name a few, have “gender equity” plans, setting goals for the number of women to be represented within the project workforce.
When Vale operated its test facility for the Long Harbour processing plant in Argentia, the team was around 37 to 38 per cent women, the general manager responsible for plant operations, Don Stevens, told reporters before a recent tour of the site. Vale is looking to reach 20 to 25 per cent as its gender diversity goal for operations at the full-size facility when it is completed.
Commitments like these can be taken on by smaller suppliers and service companies as well.
Tapping into the underutilized workforce can be as simple as connecting with organizations offering representation.
Advocates for the underutilized workforce say employers should also consider taking some time to learn about how to make the workplace more attractive and accessible to available workers.