Recently, the Federal Government announced the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot. This initiative hopes to attract people who can offset a Canada-wide decrease in available workers. The goal of the program is to “bring newcomers to regions confronting severe labour shortages due to a youth exodus, declining birth rate and aging population.” Four communities in Northeastern Ontario have been chosen to participate in the pilot, beginning this summer.
Earlier this year I worked with several different communities in Northeastern Ontario on a labour force attraction and retention strategy. The strategy sought to understand the actual and anticipated workforce needs of the region and establish a realistic and practical action plan to attract and retain people to fill in employment gaps. At the outset of the project, the communities thought that immigration would solve all of the region’s workforce challenges. The project quickly revealed that was not the main solution, only part of the solution.
There are a number of factors to consider in developing or in re-building a workforce. Yes, immigration is one of the elements but in the case of some northern Ontario communities there are other things to consider. We need to look at populations and skill sets that currently exist within our townships and outlying areas. These are target groups that may provide an injection into the workforce in addition to diversity and well-needed, new knowledge.
Key Target Groups Can Include:
- Residents: Former residents, recent graduates, youth, young families
- Intra Region: Communities with displaced workers, high unemployment numbers
- Intra Provincial: Communities with similar characteristics (i.e. smaller communities), entrepreneurs
- Newcomers: Francophones, immigrants from similar sized communities, skills that meet “high demand job list”
As a region, Northeastern Ontario has the ability to implement best practices in attracting a multi-faceted workforce. Existing community programs and organizations can be coupled with Immigration programs and practices. One of these best practices is: attraction and retention. The 2 programs below are examples of this best practice.
1 – Kapuskasing Youth Attraction & Retention Strategy: The Town of Kapuskasing’s youth attraction and retention strategy included many strategic initiatives geared at promoting employment opportunities and highlighting the community’s quality of life. They include, but were not limited to:
- Brunch with the Mayor
- Youth Database
- Promoting employment opportunities
- Targeting youth, recent graduates and former residents
2 – Make Way for Youth: The Make Way for Youth Initiative was a pilot project in partnership with the FNETB and the communities along the Highway 11 corridor between Hearst and Cochrane. The mission of the project was to encourage the retention and attraction of young post-secondary students aged 18-35.
The Government claims that the pilot program will support the economic development of the communities by testing new, community-driven approaches to fill diverse labour market needs. In the research project conducted by Ontario North Consulting, what became apparent was that there are some key components outside of immigration that are beneficial to workforce attraction and retention:
- Find a community champion / lead organization
- Determine your community or region’s “high demand job list”
- Increase awareness of your community or region’s employment opportunities and unique value proposition
- Maintain connections and relationships with former residents, recent graduates, students and youth
- Leverage and work with existing workforce planning organizations, post-secondary institutions and immigration and settlement organizations
- Position your community or region as one that is welcoming and supports diversity
- Foster a culture of collaboration between businesses and organizations seeking labour
The initiatives of the pilot program are meant to help meet smaller communities’ economic development needs and encourage investments outside urban areas. These initiatives coupled with existing resources, populations and workers can make for a positive shift in developing workforces/re-establishing workforces within smaller northern communities. Immigration is only part of the solution of the labour shortage issues in Northeastern Ontario. We need to look closely at our communities and what they have to offer, tap into those resources and marry them with immigration programs and work as a collective to grow the labour market, retain workers and boost business development in the North of Ontario.
Ontario North Consulting is experienced and equipped to help communities identify their current and future employment gaps (High Demand List). Contact us or refer us to any community that may want help in this process and would benefit from our expertise.