How is this impacting businesses?
According to the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters 2018 Management Issues Survey, the availability of skilled labour is one of the most critical issues facing Atlantic Canadian businesses, with 48% of firms facing an immediate shortage and 62% expected to face a shortage over the next five years.
In a 2018 labour shortage study by the Business Development Bank of Canada, 50% of Atlantic Canadian businesses report difficulty in hiring employees during the last year (highest in the country). Similarly, 40% of respondents in the CM&E Survey identified this issue as the most pressing challenge facing their company today. It was also identified by the greatest number of respondents in Atlantic Canada (49%) as the most important factor in deciding where to build new plants and facilities.
According to companies surveyed, the availability of skilled workers impacts their ability to introduce new products and services, as well as being a primary obstacle to investing in advanced manufacturing technologies.
A number of businesses and sector associations in Atlantic Canada have voiced their concerns about the lack of labour and skills in the Atlantic region to ACOA staff as part of their regular engagement with the Agency.
These groups and companies have identified a number of shortages in the region, although this does not include input from sectors that are not eligible under ACOA programming, such as banking, retail, and some service sectors.
Primarily, these businesses and associations have noted the need for more:
- Labour workers across all manufacturing sectors, including seafood processing.
- Workers across the tourism sector, such as food service and accommodations workers and chefs. This is most important for Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton, where tourism is vital to the regional economy.
- Qualified engineers and technical specialists who have practical, hands-on problem-solving skills and experience. In some cases, these skills are needed to support the integration of technology into manufacturing firms.
- Workers with digital skills like computer programming for technology sectors, such as ICT, aerospace and defence, cyber security, and ocean technology. These skills can also support more advanced manufacturing technologies and the digitization of operations.
The following sections provide real-world examples of the challenges being faced by Atlantic Canadian companies.
Food and Seafood Processing
Although many seasonal firms in the Atlantic region have increasingly been integrating technology and automating operations to maintain their competitiveness and address labour shortages, a number of companies still express a need for lower skilled labour. In fact, many rural food processing companies limit their production activities and growth due to a lack of available workers.
A recent report by Food Processing Skills Canada found that 62% of survey respondents would not apply to seafood processing jobs. This is likely due to factors like geographic location, physical requirements of the work, low wages, limiting hours of work to meet EI requirements, and rising education levels.
The report also found that foreign workers only comprise 8.7% of the workforce in Atlantic Canada’s seafood processing industry, compared to 62.8% in the United States.
Despite these challenges, this sector remains vital for the region, representing 15,670 employees (or 55% of employment in food manufacturing), 550 companies, and an export market valued at over $3.9 billion.
Some of the impacts reported by businesses operating in this sector include:
- Lobster companies in Nova Scotia sometimes restrict their products to live lobster, which doesn’t require processing.
- A Nova Scotia-based seafood firm continues to use the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) to supplement their regular workforce but has struggled to meet labour needs. As a result, the company halted product development and diversification.
- A Nova Scotia-based lobster firm also makes use of the TFWP with a robust recruitment and retention program, including support services such as bussing employees to work and appointments, building apartments, on-site language training, and using immigrant programs.
- Two large food processors in rural New Brunswick have faced challenges when recruiting additional workers, and are constrained by housing issues.
- A New Brunswick-based firm has targeted Romanian workers through the TFWP and modified their production runs to respond to labour shortages. This company is also undertaking efforts to increase automation and is exploring permanent immigration solutions through the Provincial Nominee Program and the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program (AIPP).
- One emerging problem has been a lack of skilled workers available to run advanced technological processes (many of which were made possible by ACOA projects). One Prince Edward Island-based firm is seeking an engineer through the AIPP.
- Prince Edward Island is experiencing a shortage of workers skilled in Quality Assurance (QA). Holland College is currently looking at the feasibility of a food safety/quality assurance program.
- A mussel-farming and processing business located on Prince Edward Island has been experiencing labour and skills shortages for at least a decade as workers retire. The company has held job fairs and offers competitive salaries and health benefits, but automation and immigration will still be critical for meeting their production needs.
- Seafood processing companies in Newfoundland and Labrador are currently meeting their labour needs with the local workforce and some usage of the TFWP. In part, this is due to a steady reduction in seafood quotas over time, a reduction in the number of plants and an increase in work automation. However, retirements are expected to challenge companies in the near future.
As a result of recent and planned investments, significant growth is expected in the aquaculture industry in Newfoundland and Labrador over the next three to five years.
Access to skilled labour is expected to pose a challenge for this industry, particularly in the Burin and South Coast regions:
- An aquaculture development will require workers for a combination of boat handlers/operators, cage development workers, and welding pipe workers, plus more workers in the hatchery and salmon processing.
- One company plans to double its workforce to build barges.
- The construction of aquaculture operations will also require other professional services workers, such as engineers.
- A shipyard that plans become an aquaculture service centre may need several hundred additional workers.
- The additional salmon being processed means an increased demand for workers in processing plants along the south shore.
Elsewhere in Atlantic Canada, a company has experienced difficulty recruiting both skilled and unskilled labour. The company currently uses the TFWP and builds housing for its workers but had to move some of its production to the United States due to a lack of workers.
Over the next three years, the firm will invest significantly to create over 200 new positions. In terms of recruitment, the company is offering above minimum wage for vacant positions and has hired a talent consultant to help access the AIPP.
Aerospace and Defence
One company based in Newfoundland and Labrador has expressed difficulty accessing skilled avionics engineers as well as aircraft maintenance and structural workers.
Meanwhile, another Newfoundland and Labrador-based company is currently training students within the community in hopes of improving recruitment.
A large technology firm based in Newfoundland and Labrador has hired an entire class of graduating Computer Science students from Memorial University, but still faces a shortage of workers.
The company plans to hire over 100 people this year by leveraging higher salaries to attract workers from other companies, recruiting from other universities in the region, opening a Toronto office, and targeting immigrants with already-established communities in St. John’s. Additionally, the company is advocating universities and colleges to increase their number of computer science graduates.
Another Newfoundland and Labrador-based company that focuses on creating devices for vehicles has been faced with too few computer programmers to meet its needs, while a start-up developing wireless power solutions has experienced challenges recruiting and financing specialized ICT skills. In response, the company employs tele-workers and established a satellite office in another province.
The problem is not limited to Newfoundland and Labrador. In several provinces, older companies and start-up firms are both struggling to find talent. Some smaller firms struggle to compete on salary, with many graduates moving away for better paying jobs.
Labour shortage in the tourism sector is a challenge being examined by both national and provincial parties. Some of the problems include seasonality, salary bands, and the dynamics of career choice.
Programs like the TFWP and the use of students do not always work in the tourism sector, especially as the industry experiences growth in shoulder seasons (the period between peak and off-peak seasons). This is because the TFWP limits the duration of work and restricts workers to a single company.
In Nova Scotia, one establishment has staff that work only during the peak season and then work elsewhere for the rest of the year. In fact, many tourism staff travel the world working at different businesses and do not want to stay year-round or during shoulder seasons. Because tourism is so important to the Nova Scotia economy, many businesses are trying to meet their needs with students or temporary foreign workers.
In rural areas of Nova Scotia, high-end restaurants are struggling to find chefs, while tourism operators continue to need seasonal staff.
In New Brunswick, a pilot wage subsidy program has just finished with the intention of incentivizing older workers to work in tourism.
On Prince Edward Island, a rural café is planning a Charlottetown location for the purpose of training staff. Across the island, the industry faces challenges in finding housekeepers, line cooks and maintenance workers, which are not eligible under the TFWP.
Manufacturing and Other
Nine manufacturing companies in the Nova Scotia Annapolis region (employing 2,492) were surveyed. These firms anticipate challenges filling 604 full-time positions (valued at $29 million). For over half of the companies, these positions are just to maintain their current production level.
A company located in rural New Brunswick has also struggled to recruit labour workers. The company recently participated in a pilot project that recruited EI recipients in the seafood processing sector, in order to fulfill temporary needs. In addition to helping the company meet production requirements, the workers reported enjoying the pilot and appreciating the availability of additional work.
In New Brunswick, companies in the metal fabrication sector are experiencing challenges filling technical positions, such as welders and machinists. Additionally, a forestry company has been unable to find workers and recruited approximately 50 foreign workers (both permanent immigrants and others). Although they were looking to recruit an additional 50 workers, they were constrained by a lack of housing.
Firms that support advanced manufacturing in Atlantic Canada are finding it challenging to recruit design engineers.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, a large rural manufacturing company currently meets its labour requirements but finds it difficult to recruit the more advanced or specialized skills it requires.
 Food Processing Skills Canada. 2019. Securing Canada’s Fish and Seafood Workforces. Highlights from a Labour Market Information Study of Canada’s Fish and Seafood Processing Industry.
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