Hot economy keeps grads in Saskatchewan

Economic tide has turned out west

Saskatchewan’s hot labour market and good quality of life have combined to help the province retain an overwhelming majority of graduates from post-secondary institutions, according to a new study.

A survey of 5,839 post-secondary graduates from the province’s colleges, universities and technical and vocational schools found 85 per cent of them had stayed in the province two years after graduation and graduates had a 96.7-per-cent employment rate.

“Our economy has been rather robust. We actually have more jobs than qualified people,” said Terry White, communications officer with Saskatchewan’s department of Advanced Education and Employment in Regina. “There’s something to stay for.”

The results of the study Saskatchewan Advanced Education and Employment: Graduate Outcomes of 2004-2005 Class show a marked increase in graduate retention from a similar Statistics Canada study done in 2002 looking at graduates from 2000. At that time, only 77 per cent of college and university graduates had remained in the province two years after graduation.

A recent report from the Fraser Institute, a Vancouver-based think tank, looked at the labour market performance of 60 Canadian and American jurisdictions and found Alberta and Saskatchewan were the only Canadian provinces in the top 10.

At the start of the millennium, Alberta, with its booming oil sands and construction projects, was attracting many of Saskatchewan’s qualified workers. But now the economic tide has turned.

“In 2000, the difference between the Alberta economy and the Saskatchewan economy was much bigger than it is now. The Saskatchewan economy has grown at a much faster rate,” said White. “In the last quarter of 2006, for the first time in more than several decades, the transfer of people between Saskatchewan and Alberta reversed to be in Saskatchewan’s favour.”

The province launched an advertising campaign in Alberta last year to get the word out about its booming economy and encourage residents who left in leaner times to come home.

The campaign, which highlights the province’s online job site SaskJobs on billboards, newspapers, public transit and traffic reports, moved into southern Ontario in the spring and started another six-week run at the end of the summer. The $320,000 campaign also includes online ads on popular social networking sites such as Facebook.

Besides good jobs, Saskatchewan is promoting its quality of life to attract new and former residents.

“We joke that rush hour lasts a few minutes. The lifestyle is a big factor for Saskatchewan, especially when you compare it to life in Calgary. You can walk or bicycle home in many communities,” said White. “For the price of a small home in Calgary you can buy a home and a cottage and put a boat in the lake and a car in the driveway.”

It’s this affordability and slower pace that graduates find so appealing, said Linda Smith, the executive director of the policy and evaluation branch of Saskatchewan’s Advanced Education and Employment department.

“I think people recognize that you can have a life, have a family and go to work. It’s a good quality of life,” said Smith, who was in charge of the graduate survey, which was funded by the federal government.

Financial incentives and tax breaks have also had an effect on graduates choosing to stay in Saskatchewan, said White. In 2002, the government introduced its graduate tax credit, which was a one-time $500 credit on tuition costs. This year it was replaced with the graduate tax exemption, a tax break of $1,100 a year for five years.

“When you add that to all the other exemptions, they actually get $100,000 of employment over five years without paying Saskatchewan income tax,” said White.

New Brunswick, which at 73.5 per cent had the third lowest graduate-retention rate in the Statistics Canada survey (see sidebar below), and Manitoba have also implemented tuition rebates to help retain and attract graduates.

New Brunswick’s tuition rebate program, announced in 2005, came into effect in April for anyone who graduated from an eligible post-secondary institution after Jan. 1, 2005.

Since April, the program has received about 2,000 applications and given out $1.6 million in rebates, said Vicky Deschenes, director of communications for New Brunswick’s department of finance in Fredericton.

Eligible graduates receive a non-taxable rebate of 50 per cent of their tuition costs with a maximum lifetime rebate of $10,000. There is a $2,000-per-year maximum and recipients have 20 years from when they start paying New Brunswick income tax to use up the entire rebate.

Manitoba announced its tax rebate program last December. Students who graduate after Jan. 1, 2007, and who work in the province will be eligible to receive tax credits of up to 60 per cent of tuition to a maximum of $25,000.

Saskatchewan’s graduate survey is statistical proof of the benefit and relevance of post-secondary education in the province, said Smith. Nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of graduates reported their education was “very related” to their job and unemployment among graduates (3.25 per cent) was lower than the provincial average of 4.1 per cent.

“Post-secondary education and training continues to be a good investment. There is a high level of employment after completion,” said Smith

Part of that success can be attributed to the Saskatchewan Labour Market Commission, which is composed of representatives from labour, business, educational institutions and the government, said White.

“They advise the government on what should be happening in the training system to satisfy the labour market,” he said.

Where are they now

A look at university and college grads two years later

In 2002, Statistics Canada surveyed university and college graduates two years after they graduated to find out how many had left the province in which they attended post-secondary school. The number of graduates who moved to Ontario and Alberta between 2000 and 2002 more than made up for those who left — leaving the provinces with a positive net migration.

ProvinceGraduates in 2000Graduates who left by 2002Retention rate
British Columbia32,7503,37089.7%
Newfoundland and Labrador3,78096074.6%
New Brunswick6,0101,59073.5%
Nova Scotia9,8603,07069.9%
Prince Edward Island1,47053063.9%

Source: Statistics Canada Graduate Survey 2000

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