A win for immigration (Editor’s notes)

Microsoft's Canadian expansion could lead to a boon for economy
By Todd Humber
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/07/2007

Microsoft’s decision to open a development centre in Richmond, B.C., as outlined on page 1 of this issue (see link below), could be a watershed moment for the Canadian job scene.

Not in terms of numbers — it will employ about 500 workers by next year, hardly enough to show up even as a blip in unemployment statistics — but in terms of showing how Canada can use its talent to compete in the global economy.

The manufacturing sector, which along with natural resources has been the traditional engine of Canada’s economy, has been hit hard in recent years. Between 2002 and 2005, employment in manufacturing fell by nearly 149,000 jobs, according to Statistics Canada. That’s a trend that is still continuing, as manufacturing bled another 72,000 through the first seven months of 2007, about the same pace as 2006.

The strong dollar, foreign competition and problems with the Big Three automakers have gutted manufacturing. Many of those high-paying jobs are disappearing forever, shipped overseas to the lowest bidder. For Canada’s economy to continue to perform strongly, those jobs need to be replaced. That’s why the Microsoft announcement is a breath of fresh air.

Canada has, for years, been stockpiling talent through immigration policies that seek out the cream of the crop. But some of the newcomers have been disillusioned, unable to find jobs in their field or jobs that fully utilize their skills.

Microsoft, which some say is disillusioned with American immigration rules that make it tougher for skilled workers to get into the U.S., said it has long coveted the talent on this side of the border and that is why it made the move.

The message behind Microsoft’s announcement is clear. Employers are willing to, and increasingly must, go where the talent is. The much-ballyhooed labour shortage is going to dictate that. Thanks to Canada’s immigration policies, the talent is here. Skilled workers are becoming a scarce natural resource just like oil and water, and employers around the world will inevitably need to start tapping that resource.

Keeping the immigration door wide open, not only to replace Canadian workers who are retiring, but to pull in talent, will attract companies like Microsoft. There is also a need to start retraining manufacturing workers whose high-paying, low-skill jobs are disappearing. And there is a great opportunity to start training students, so they have in-demand skills.

But immigration is just one way Canada can keep on top of its labour needs. Proper planning is another way. In this issue’s CloseUp,

Canadian HR Reporter

asked four senior HR leaders about their thoughts on the labour shortage. Lynn Roger, vice-president of talent acquisition, planning and development at BMO Financial Group, gave an answer that makes a lot of sense. She said it’s funny to hear the labour shortage described as a “crisis.”

“In business, there are things that are unpredictable, like government regulations and business strategy with the entrance of new competition, but the one thing that was predictable is the aging demographic profile of our workplace,” she said.

Here is yet another opportunity for HR to step up to the plate. Even if the doom-and-gloom labour shortage scenarios turn out to be overblown, proper workforce planning is never a wasted exercise.

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