Nfld. employers beckon expats home

Lifestyle, not pay, draws residents back
By Shannon Klie
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/11/2009

The last four people the Newfoundland and Labrador Employers’ Council (NLEC) in St. John’s has hired have all been former Newfoundlanders looking for a reason to come home.

Seeing this trend, Richard Alexander, the council’s executive director, realized Newfoundland expatriates, many of whom had left the province during tougher economic times to take root in Alberta and Ontario, were an untapped source of labour for a province that has recently been reclassified from “have-not” to “have” status in the federal equalization program.

The oil and mining industries have been driving the province’s recent economic boom, but labour shortages are being felt in all sectors, said Alexander. The labour supply is especially tight in the service industry, skilled trades and professional occupations, such as guidance counsellors, doctors and IT workers. Baby boomer retirements are also affecting the labour market, with the public service, the province’s largest employer, expecting 30 per cent of its workforce to retire in the next five to seven years, he said.

“We have to look outside the province in terms of population. The demand for labour is going to outstrip supply and it’s only going to get tighter and tighter as we go on,” said Alexander. “There’s a large number of expats and they have a strong predisposition to return. A lot of them are just waiting for the right opportunity.”

That was the case for Jaclyn Sullivan, marketing and communications specialist at NLEC. Sullivan left Newfoundland after university and found a job in Toronto doing public relations for movies.

“The first couple of years, it was excellent,” she said. “But the last couple of years I lived there I just found, being from Newfoundland, and everyone I know from Newfoundland has this feeling in the back of their mind, there’s always that feeling that ‘I would love to go home someday.’”

One of the main drivers for Sullivan was work-life balance, something that was in short supply in Toronto. During her visits home, she saw how the job market was picking up and how her friends who had stayed were buying homes and starting families, something she couldn’t even think about with the high cost of houses in Toronto.

She started looking at job openings and knew she probably wouldn’t find a job marketing movies in Newfoundland, but she did find several PR jobs that appealed to her.

“I definitely wanted the right opportunity. I wanted a job that was challenging and exciting and allowed me to use all the skills that I’d developed over the last five years,” she said.

In the end, she found a job that offered attractive benefits, good hours with Friday afternoons off in the summer and a good work culture.

NLEC’s experience hiring expats prompted it to host a conference last fall to show employers how to attract and retain these workers. The two-day conference featured expats who had returned to jobs in Newfoundland and employers that have hired them, with a focus on compensation and benefits, work-life balance and relocation incentives.

One of the most important lessons was employers shouldn’t try to compete with Alberta when it comes to wages, because it’s a losing battle, said Alexander. Instead, employers should focus on the total rewards package.

“Yes, salary is important, but it’s the work-life balance, it’s the family-friendly policies, it’s being challenged, it’s being given opportunities for moving up the ladder,” he said.

But salary still needs to be commensurate with experience, said Sullivan.

“If you are going to come home, it’s going to involve a little bit of a pay cut. It was important to me not to come down too much, because I wanted my experience to be worth something,” she said.

Employers also need to realize they’re not just recruiting an employee, they’re recruiting the employee’s spouse and any children, so it’s important to sell the community as well as the job, said Alexander.

When trying to reach this labour pool, employers don’t have to take out ads in national newspapers or buy billboards in Fort McMurray, Alta. Most former Newfoundlanders stay in touch with friends and family back home and hear about job opportunities through word of mouth or by reading local newspapers, said Alexander.

This is a trend Lisa Hollett, director of HR at Memorial University in St. John’s, has seen recently.

“We are noticing an increased number of applications from people who are obviously scanning our local media and are looking for a reason to come home,” she said.

The university is experiencing shortages in a wide range of occupations, including all mid-level career professionals and skilled tradespeople, such as electricians, millwrights and power engineers.

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