Sask. turns on charm

Province touts booming economy, quality of life to lure workers to fill more than 6,000 jobs
By Shannon Klie
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/20/2009

After decades of losing workers to other, more well-off provinces, Saskatchewan’s economic fortunes have turned around and the province is trying to lure jobseekers and new graduates to fill more than 6,000 jobs.

“We have lost generations of some of our best resources, our people, especially our young people, to other provinces in the country,” said Premier Brad Wall, who attended the National Job Fair in Toronto on April 1. “We used to be the place to be from and now we’re the place to be in terms of economic opportunity.”

With record job losses in Ontario, that province is a great source of candidates for Saskatchewan employers, said Wall. But he didn’t attend the job fair to “poach” Ontario workers, he said.

“I believe the strength of our country, the strength of the federation, is that often when one region is under some economic stress, when there are job losses, there may be opportunities and hope in another region,” he said.

The province also ran a billboard and radio campaign in Alberta, mostly because so many former Saskatchewan residents relocated there during that province’s boom.

“Saskatchewan has been very generous with Canada in sharing our great people. We’re just saying we would like to have some come home,” said Wall.

There were 14,500 more people working in Saskatchewan this February compared to last February, an increase of 2.9 per cent and the strongest growth of any province, according to Statistics Canada. The rest of the country lost a total of 246,800 jobs in the same period.

While the province’s unemployment rate edged up from 4.1 per cent in January to 4.7 per cent in February, it is still the lowest in the country and the province is among one of three “have” provinces. Saskatchewan workers are also now the third-highest paid in Canada, with average weekly earnings of $802.43.

To help attract and retain new graduates, the province has expanded its graduate-retention program.

Saskatchewan used to provide $5,500, over five years, in tax rebates to pay back the tuition of Saskatchewan grads. Now the province is offering anyone living in Saskatchewan, who graduated with a certificate, diploma or degree from anywhere in Canada or around the world, up to $20,000, over seven years, in tax rebates.

“The graduate-retention plan is designed to get people to consider staying,” said Wall. “We believe that once they are there for a time, once they buy that house or once they meet someone or start a family and also realize the quality of life we have to offer in the province, they will stay.”

There are currently more than 6,000 job postings on the province’s online job site, SaskJobs.ca. About 25 of the province’s key businesses with positions to fill, including those in engineering and applied science, health care, construction and other trades, attended the Toronto job fair on March 31 and April 1.

Employers tout Saskatchewan’s merits

Being at the fair is a way for employers to showcase Saskatchewan as an option for people looking to move out west, said Angie Gardippi, HR manager of staffing at SaskTel.

“We’re here promoting SaskTel as an employer of choice,” she said.

For people who take a job with the telecommunications company, there is relocation assistance available for permanent, full-time positions, she added.

The Saskatoon Health Region is hoping to find registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and allied health professionals, and fill about 47 hard-to-recruit positions, from audiologists to speech language pathologists, said Anna Chanmany, recruitment and settlement consultant with the health region.

To help attract health-care professionals to the province, the Ministry of Health has $10,000 relocation grants for people who stay in the province for two years, said Chanmany.

The Saskatchewan Public Service Commission was also on hand at the job fair, hoping to raise awareness about opportunities with the public service, said Devin Jones, a recruitment consultant with the commission.

There are anywhere from 30 to 50 positions open with the public service and jobs range from part-time contract to full-time permanent.

Saskatoon Mayor Donald Atchison doesn’t foresee the province’s economy cooling any time soon.

“In Saskatoon, we have one of the most balanced economies in all of Canada,” he said.

The province as a whole has valuable natural resources, such as potash, oil and gold, as well as strong scientific, transportation, education, health-care and manufacturing sectors, he said.

“We’re the largest steel fabricators west of Toronto in Canada,” he added.

There’s still demand for housing, so the housing industry is booming and the province is currently conducting public consultations to build a nuclear power plant, said Atchison.

“We’re really not feeling the downturn in the global economy like the rest of the world,” agreed Regina Mayor Pat ­Fiacco.

Besides the new projects coming online, such as a new oil refinery that will create about 800 construction jobs and a new Loblaw distribution centre, it’s the quality of life that will attract and keep people in the province, said Fiacco.

Province’s lifestyle can be welcome change

There are much shorter commutes in Saskatchewan’s cities, which makes it possible for workers to go home for lunch or easily get to a child’s soccer game, he said. There are also art galleries, museums and recreation facilities to keep people active when they’re not on the job.

The promise of a slower pace holds a lot of appeal for Andy Turk, a Mississauga, Ont.-based construction worker who was laid off at the end of March.

“I think Ontario is getting too congested,” he said. “The lifestyle I see here is too fast-paced.”

Turk attended the job fair to find out more about the opportunities in Saskatchewan, hopeful a smaller province would provide the laid-back lifestyle he’s looking for.

Unlike Alberta when it experienced its boom a few years ago, Saskatchewan has housing for people moving to the province, said Fiacco.

“Not only do we have housing available, it’s affordable,” he said.

According to figures from the government, a 1,200-square-foot, three-bedroom detached bungalow in Regina costs $295,000, compared to $612,100 in Calgary and $1,050,000 in Vancouver. A two-bedroom apartment costs $693 a month in Saskatoon, compared to $1,080 in Calgary and Vancouver.

For Craig Levine, another jobseeker at the fair, the province’s booming economy makes Saskatchewan very attractive. Levine, who has held various jobs in IT and business development, is also an amateur astronomer, so the province’s wide-open spaces are nearly as attractive as the job market, he said.

Last fall, the Saskatchewan premier was in Ontario targeting workers in the embattled manufacturing sector as well as recent immigrants in Toronto. His efforts have been paying off.

The province’s population grew by 15,000 last year, with about 920 people coming from Ontario in the last quarter of 2008, he said.