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Where have all the workers gone?

Presented by Heather Hyde
in Community Development, Economic Development
September, 2019

Sponsored by Saugeen Shores

Worried about the future labour force needs for your community? Looking for solutions to ease the labour shortage for businesses? You are not alone …

The fastest-growing community in the region, the Town of Saugeen Shores, Ontario is ranked as one of the best places to live in Canada. Already a hub for innovation, the Town is quickly becoming a centre of excellence for the nuclear industry. Population growth and an increase in construction value (year to year) go hand-in-hand with a hot economic spin off from the largest infrastructure project in Canada – the Major Component Replacement Project, happening at Bruce Power (located 25 kilometres south of the Town). Houses are being built, people are moving to town, developers are investing in visionary projects and attracting new amenities to the community. Town council is progressive and excited, and local business is booming. Sounds like an economic development officer’s dream, right? Almost.

Labour Crunch

When you look closely at local business, and when you ask a business owner about their experience, almost everyone will say “I can’t find enough staff.” From service sector to retail, from large employers to two-employee operations, local businesses are alarmed by the shortage of workers. Business owners are telling the Town “we can’t operate at capacity” or “I have to cut hours because I don’t have the people to work” or (perhaps the most cringe-worthy one) “I have to find housing for my staff because they can’t afford to live here.”

Lack of affordable housing. Lack of transportation. Lack of child care (because there aren’t people to work in child care facilities). Three easy targets and notable “reasons why local businesses have trouble filling roles.”

Through conversations with neighbours, colleagues, and MPs across the nation, Saugeen Shores knows it’s not alone. Although the Town has a unique advantage (what other community sees a 75 percent increase in construction value year over year, or sees a number of global engineering firms open offices, or boasts a household income 25 percent higher than the national average?), it’s experiencing the same labour shortage.

Addressing a National Issue

In March 2019, the Town hosted a conversation about labour shortage. Local business owners shared stories and a panel of experts painted the picture. The elephant in the room was addressed and somewhat accepted. Business owners, business associations, elected officials, and community leaders left the conversation understanding the issue is bigger than Saugeen Shores. It’s bigger than affordable housing, bigger than a lack of public transit, and bigger than a lack of child care – it’s a national issue.

This community of 14,000 is committed to continuing the discussion. Business owners understand the investment they must make in the people they do have, and they understand the collaborative effort required to make a change. The community wants to be part of the solution and is engaged in discussions around the future of automation and immigration.

Economic development partners are leading conversations on welcoming newcomers, celebrating diversity in the community, and understanding that encouraging new residents to the area is the key to future success.

The Town is also working with researchers at the University of Guelph to pursue funding for a labour market research project. Quantifiable data will be an asset in advancing programs and policy to support the local business community.

The labour shortage is everywhere, and ignoring it won’t make it disappear. Saugeen Shores resolves to be part of the solution for its community and hopefully neighbouring communities as well as it moves forward with collecting quantifiable data, identifying best practices, and investigating innovative solutions to help business owners facing the labour crunch. MW

Municipal World Insider and Executive Members: You might also be interested in Ken Coates’s article: Building an economy, one job at a time. Note that you can now access the complete collection of past articles (and more) from your membership dashboard.

Heather Hyde brings collaborative thinking and creativity to the role of Economic Development Officer for the Town of Saugeen Shores. Her strong roots in the community, combined with her passion for strategic marketing, assist in leveraging local assets through innovative solutions and facilitating effective business attraction and expansion initiatives.

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