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Aging population in Newfoundland and Labrador affecting labour market

Pierre Cléroux — Business Development Bank of Canada photo
Pierre Cléroux — Business Development Bank of Canada photo - Contributed

Economist says employers should market positive work environment

Armed with a new look into a tightening Canadian labour market, Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) chief economist Pierre Cléroux says employers in Newfoundland and Labrador need to be aware of what’s happening, and how they might respond.

A BDC survey of 1,208 entrepreneurs across the country found 39 per cent had difficulty hiring new employees in the last year. But the challenge is even greater when you look specifically at Atlantic Canada, Cléroux said.

It’s also expected to get worse in the province, risking business growth.

“The main reason for that is we have an aging population, so there’s a lot of Canadian baby boomers that are retiring and there’s not as many young people entering the workforce. So that’s the main reason why we have this imbalance, I’ll guess we’ll say, and our labour force is shrinking, and as a result it’s more difficult for businesses to find people,” he said Tuesday.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the number of young people entering the workforce is “not very large” and, nationwide, the pinch is particularly painful for businesses in the manufacturing, retail and construction sectors.

The survey results are shown in “Labour Shortage: Here to stay” — a new BDC report.

Sub-nationally, focusing on Atlantic Canada, it states close to 50 per cent of the entrepreneurs surveyed reported trouble in landing qualified new hires (although the specific number of responses per region and province were not detailed). The survey was complemented by interviews with business owners, to better understand what’s happening.

“Although it’s difficult to recruit in general, it is more difficult to recruit skilled workers,” Cléroux noted of the findings.

While local labour shortages have been reported in the past, this is emerging out of a demographic trend versus limited-term projects drawing in skilled workers.

“This is not a temporary situation. This is a situation that’s going to last for a while,” he said, adding the demographic issue won’t hit the same across the board, but is expected to continue for at least a decade.

Immigration is suggested as part of the solution. It’s also recommended employers try to attract all traditionally underutilized segments of the workforce.

“Another solution is to raise efficiency or to invest in technology. In our research, we can see that especially larger businesses, businesses of more than 100 employees, that’s really the first strategy they use,” he said, noting consumers are already seeing the results, down to the increased use of self-checkouts in retail.

The report suggests businesses with strong, clear human resources policies — for example formalized job descriptions, a standard selection process for new hires, an employee manual, training and career development programs — are better positioned to defy the labour limitations.

While these things are also more common in larger businesses, the suggestion is smaller operations can review what is available to their employees, potentially introducing or upgrading one or more elements.

As turnover is costly, Cléroux said business owners should also consider their public image as an employer, in the same way they spend time on the public’s impression of their products and services.

“As a business owner you have to make sure that people know your business, they have a positive image about working in your business,” he said.

While employers face their challenges, new entrants into the workforce are expected to see the benefit of more options in the job market, albeit with challenges, including the incorporation of new technology and associated training.

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