Nova Scotia to workers: ‘Please come home’

Recruiting a difficult challenge in Atlantic provinces

Finding employees the old-fashioned way has become next to impossible in Nova Scotia. Last year, despite spending $92,000 on newspaper advertising, Bedford, N.S.-based Dexter Construction couldn’t find a single suitable candidate, according to Stuart Gourley, the senior executive director of the skills and learning branch of the province’s department of education.

“Employers, particularly here in the province — because the unemployment rate was as high as it was over the past 10 years — became used to throwing an ad in the paper and you’d get 100 resumés. Now, you get none,” said Gourley. “Employers are beginning to recognize they’ve got to do this a different way.”

While unemployment is low across the country (it was 5.9 per cent at press time), employers in the Atlantic provinces have been hit hard because many residents have moved to Alberta to take advantage of the oil boom.

“We’re facing shortages and, like anybody else, we’ve lost people to Western Canada. Most companies would say that a lot of their folks have left,” said Donald Rankin, director of HR for EastLink, a Halifax-based telecommunications company.

As the baby boomers begin turning 65, Nova Scotia will need to fill 45,000 jobs over the next five years to keep pace with retirements, said Gourley.

To address these shortages and the difficulty employers have faced recruiting employees, the department of education created the program Opportunities Nova Scotia. It arranged for 19 employers to travel to Ontario and Alberta in the fall to convince former Nova Scotians to return home and maybe even attract a few new residents.

More than 1,500 people attended the job fairs in Ottawa, Toronto, Mississauga, Calgary and Edmonton over a two-week period in November and another 1,600 sent resumés via the web. The majority of participants (about 66 per cent) weren’t native Nova Scotians but were interested in moving out East.

At the same time, employers from Alberta were also recruiting in Ontario, which shows what employers are going to have to do in order to survive the labour shortage, said Rankin, whose company participated in the trip.

“It’s a different, different market out there,” he said.

In all, EastLink received about 300 resumés from the effort and interviewed about 10 people for mid- to senior-level jobs, said Rankin. But more importantly, the job fairs and website “increase awareness and show people who may have left here 10 years ago that the economy has sprung in Nova Scotia… and that we’re a viable alternative to Ontario or Western Canada,” he said.

When Halifax-based Irving Shipbuilding signed on for the trip, a lot of people doubted the company would be able to find any shipbuilders in the land-locked West. But Melissa Morrison, HR manager at Irving, believed there were a lot of native Nova Scotians in Alberta and Ontario who wanted to come home to their extended families.

“They’re just looking for the right opportunity to do so,” she said.

Irving received nearly 400 resumés from the trip and interviewed several candidates.

Some employers, such as the Cape Breton Health Authority, have also made trips out West on their own to attract employees, said Gourley, “which speaks to the desperation particularly for health-care workers in both acute care as well as long-term care.”

While all industries will be affected by retirements, there are several industries in Nova Scotia expecting growth above and beyond demographic needs in the next few years, including IT, financial services, aerospace and defence, said Gourley.

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