As the Island workforce continues to diminish, the province has no choice but to immediately turn towards immigration to compensate for a skilled worker shortage if it wishes to maintain its current level of services, says former UPEI president Wade MacLauchlan.
During an information session about the LIENS immigrant integration program Monday in Charlottetown, MacLauchlan and other speakers offered striking statistics and statements that opened the eyes of several of the more than 40 participants.
The province is expecting the loss of 40 per cent of its workforce within the next 40 years, mostly because of declining birth rates, the increasing mortality rate of the aging population and the out-migration of Islanders to other parts of the country.
The effects are already being felt. In fact, some employers say they are facing a shortage of skilled workers since they’re having a hard time recruiting employees who are qualified for their specialized positions.
The speakers noted that 40 per cent of Islanders haven’t acquired a level of literacy or numeracy to allow them to complete their high school studies.
In his speech entitled Demographics and Destiny: A Challenge for P.E.I., MacLauchlan said the Island should follow the example of Manitoba, which developed its own immigration strategy.
That province has been able to retain 85 per cent of its immigrants, which is much higher than the results attained by all other provinces.
Manitoba figured out how to align its realities along with the skills of its current and immigrant workers with existing and potential opportunities within the local work market, in an effort to create sustainable jobs. P.E.I. should follow that lead, MacLauchlan said.
For P.E.I. to succeed in its immigrant recruiting efforts, all players will have to work together, they will have to maintain an open mind that is both welcoming and authentic and the host community must be completely convinced of the approach being used, he said.
MacLauchlan said he believes the approach has to be community-based rather than government-based.
The province foresees the establishment of 300 newcomers on the Island every year. MacLauchlan said this number “isn’t very optimistic.”
If a proactive and strategic approach is used, that number could easily be raised to 2,000 a year, he said, adding that number has been consistently surpassed in the last few years.
MacLauchlan said P.E.I.’s efforts should be directed towards people from other countries who are already here — such as temporary workers and international students — since they already know a bit about the local lifestyle.
Lori-Ann Cyr, executive director of Diversis Inc., offered a whole list of advantages of hiring immigrants during her presentation entitled Hiring Newcomers: A Solution?
She said newcomers contribute new skills and knowledge, they have networks of international contacts, they are familiar with international markets and commercial policies of other countries, they bring innovative approaches and perspectives to the table and they often have advanced linguistic skills that can help companies broaden their clientele and markets.
They also tend to be extremely loyal, Cyr added.