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What you need to know about COVID-19: August 7, 2020
More workers needed
Facing a deepening labour shortage, companies in Atlantic Canada are ratcheting up efforts to recruit workers from machinists to salespeople, with some employers even offering on-the-job training or moving bonuses.
Steady employment growth and a rise in job vacancies across much of the region have led to mounting labour pressures.
Economists say demographic shifts and a skills mismatch have worsened the worker shortage, and warn that the trend could hamper productivity and economic growth.
The labour crunch has also fuelled competition, with Steele Auto Group — the largest car dealer in Atlantic Canada — launching a program this week offering up to $7,500 to help new employees relocate.
“We’re in a challenging time right now in our labour market,” Ruth Meagher, the company’s director of human resources, said in an interview Friday.
“It’s a competitive market for people with the skillset and experience we’re looking for.”
She said the Come Home campaign is part of an effort to immediately fill 70 positions, from automotive technicians to salespeople, with a need for dozens more workers expected in the coming months.
The tight labour market is underscored by new figures from Statistics Canada.
The federal agency’s labour force survey released Friday pegged the unemployment rate in Halifax at 5.6 per cent last month, while Moncton’s unemployment rate was 5.4 per cent.
The unemployment rate for St. John’s, N.L., and Saint John, N.B., were slightly higher at 7.9 per cent and 7.2 per cent, respectively, according to data.
Meanwhile, a Statistics Canada report released earlier this year found the number of job vacancies in the first quarter of 2019 were up in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador.
Robert Hogue, senior economist at Royal Bank of Canada, said with some exceptions there has been an increase in the number of jobs going unfilled in the region.
“Businesses need to have some strategy to attract and retain employees and accept the fact they are competing for labour,” he said. “These challenges won’t go away on their own.”
Hogue said there’s no silver bullet, but instead cited a mix of solutions businesses can draw upon to address the labour shortage, from increasing compensation to teaming up with trade schools.
But he said government also plays a role, and can implement policies to address the labour shortage such as increasing immigration or encouraging women’s participation in the labour force.
Atlantic Canada’s labour challenges will be the focus of the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council annual business outlook conference this fall.
“In some cases, we’re seeing bonafide labour shortages,” said Fred Bergman, a senior policy analyst with the independent economic think tank.
“But in other sectors there is what I would call a skills mismatch.”
Left unchecked, he said the labour shortage could potentially constrain future economic growth.
Sean MacPhee, president of Nova Scotia firms Techtronics Machine Works and Velocity Machining, said the labour shortage is already impacting his bottom line.
“In the machining trade there is a critical manpower shortage,” he said. “I’ve had to turn down work because we just don’t have the manpower to do it … it’s an opportunity lost every day.”
MacPhee said his company makes parts for the province’s burgeoning ocean technology sector. He said he’s even offered on-the-job training for simpler machinist tasks to try and address the shortage of skilled workers, without success.
Don Bureaux, president of the Nova Scotia Community College, said he’s heard repeatedly about the need for skilled workers.
“Absolutely there’s a shortage of labour,” he said, noting that one of the greatest challenges for industry in the region is