N.B. asked citizens to suggest taglines for licence plates; here’s what they said

Competition for skilled workers expected to grow

Rob Carroll is an expatriate Newfoundlander who returned to the Rock last year to fish in local waters. But the catch he sought was not the traditional bounty of the ocean. Instead, Carroll was trawling for workers to hire for his helicopter company in the Northwest Territories.

“Newfoundland has always had a strong labour force and a good work ethic, so they very much like having a Newfoundland workforce coming to the NWT or Nunavut,” Carroll said.

“You don’t deal with too many headaches with them on board, which might explain why you have all these airlines that are flying directly from Fort McMurray or Yellowknife… to Newfoundland to go pick up workers.”

Carroll left the southern Newfoundland town of Marystown in 1990, when he was just 21. Two decades later, in 2010, he founded Trinity Helicopters, which serves Canada’s North.

When Trinity Helicopters was looking to grow last year, Carroll looked eastward. And he had no qualms about possibly being seen as poaching workers from home. “I don’t think I feel bad about wanting to pay a guy a fairly good wage and a good lifestyle. And the fact (is) I want to get him from Newfoundland because they’re good workers. To me, that’s a compliment to the province and it’s a compliment to the worker.”

To help attract people to the NWT, the territorial government has launched a campaign called Come Make Your Mark. “As our population gets older and gets closer to retirement, we could face a critical labour shortage within the next decade,” noted Alayna Ward, manager of public affairs and communications with NWT’s Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment. “This is one approach to dealing with this one challenge.”

The Come Make Your Mark campaign works to help dispel myths and “focus on the positives of living in the NWT,” Ward notes. Those include having Canada’s highest median household income (at $88,000 a year), attractive recreation and outdoor activities, and excellent career opportunities.

And NWT is not the only region eyeing the East Coast for new workers. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi visited Halifax in September to tout Cowtown as a good place to live and work.

With other jurisdictions coveting Atlantic Canada’s labour force, policy-makers and business leaders in this region are recognizing the challenge in keeping those workers here.

Not long after celebrating Halifax’s $25-billion federal shipbuilding contract victory in October, Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter said the province will work to build capacity in the skilled trades and aim to attract workers back home.

Meanwhile, in Newfoundland, nickel giant Vale expressed fears that it may soon face a labour shortage. “We’re doing everything we can to source people now across Newfoundland and Labrador, Atlantic provinces, but also in the rest of Canada,” Vale nickel processing facility project director Ronaldo Stefan told the CBC last fall. He said Vale needs about 3,500 workers to build its Long Harbour processing plant in 2012.

The issue is top of mind in many quarters. In November, the Newfoundland and Labrador Employers Council held a conference in St. John’s titled “That’s not in my job description … and other realities of a tight labour market.” According to provincial government estimates, there will be an additional 7,700 jobs in the Newfoundland and Labrador economy by 2020. Memorial University economist Wade Locke told the conference that those new jobs, combined with the province’s aging population, will have huge implications.

Locke said several things need to happen, such as recruitment and retention measures and enticing people to remain in the workforce beyond the normal retirement age. Immigration can also help address labour needs. “We can’t do what we need to do with the existing population,” Locke noted.

Last year, the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council identified 354 major investment projects in various stages of development across Atlantic Canada, with a total value of $71 billion.

The challenge now for the region’s policy makers and business leaders is finding solutions to keep workers, and make sure that work can be done.

By Rob Antle

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