Attracting more immigrants to the area is necessary if the province hopes to keep a skilled workforce in the near future.
That was the message Viorica Sporea, regional promotion officer with the Hants Regional Development Authority, made loud and clear Nov. 2.
Sporea was invited to attend West Hants council's Committee of the Whole meeting to describe her efforts in attracting qualified immigrants to the region.
“There has been a big buzz about immigration over about the past five to six years,” said Sporea.
“The whole of our country is facing a population crisis due to several factors like a decrease of birth rate (and) increasing number of aging population,” she continued. “Experts and specialists were looking for what could be done and they found several streams that if properly worked on, could help us not eliminate but somehow delay what is ahead of us in terms of population.”
One such stream is importing skilled workers — especially those with young families — to help prepare the area for the pending labour shortage.
Sporea said many people fear attracting immigrants means there will be less jobs for Nova Scotians. She said that simply will not be the case.
“It has been said for years and years — not by everyone but some people have the mentality — that immigrants were coming to take the jobs, our jobs,” said Sporea.
“Unfortunately, it seems that by 2016, one out of eight jobs in Nova Scotia won't be filled with the proper person. It won't be a lack of people. It will be a lack of matching the demand in the market with... skills in the labour market.”
After listening to Sporea's comments, Coun. Shirely Pineo weighed in. She said while immigration is important, it is just one way of staving off the labour shortage. She would like to see more emphasis placed on retaining youths as well as training people who live here now.
“First of all, try to bring back the young people that have already left our province. That's more important than anything. Bring back our youth,” said Pineo.
“I think we have 340,000 people in Nova Scotia that are illiterate... We've got to catch those kids that have dropped out of school or out of the workforce for whatever reason,” she said. “I think we need to be really focusing on that, because they're here. It's just that they're not working, they're not trained.”
According to the International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey, 38 per cent of Nova Scotians fail to meet the required skill level to meet the demands of today's economy and society.
During the meeting, council heard the HRDA has had success attracting immigrants to East Hants, but none so far to West Hants. However, Sporea said some interest has been expressed to set up a business in Windsor.
Pineo said that's likely because many immigrants don't want to live in rural communities. They want to be close to other people who share the same culture and language.
“We may bring them here, but I don't know if we'll keep them. I think they'll leave us and go to the cities,” said Pineo, noting Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver are the big draws.
Sporea said the Nova Scotia Nominee Program ensures any new immigrants will stay in the province for at least three years. But, that doesn’t mean they won’t be drawn to Halifax.
Pineo also noted Canada is not the only country facing a labour shortage, and therefore is not the only one trying to attract skilled immigrants. The labour shortage is being felt across the globe, including in the United Kingdom, Russia, China, Japan and Australia.
Sporea said immigration is just one of the streams that can help offset the pending labour shortage. Other than bringing in skilled workers, she said increasing productivity in the workforce will also help.
“As far as the numbers (go), it seems that Nova Scotia has one of the lowest rates of productivity — somewhere around 83 per cent — in Canada,” she said.
Another option is to look at increasing the retirement age.
For more information on the HRDA's efforts to attracted skilled immigrants, visit www.hantscounty.com.