Sask.’s labour market at ‘tipping point’: Report

Commission unveils 19 recommendations to mitigate impact of predicted labour shortage

Saskatchewan’s labour market is at a “tipping point” and employers and government will have to be proactive and aggressive to ensure they have the workers needed to prosper in the future, warned a report prepared by the Saskatchewan Labour Market Commission.

The 42-page report, entitled Right People, Right Place, Right Time and submitted to the provincial government in July, made 19 high-level recommendations to government, focusing on three themes: information and communication; workforce and workforce enhancement; and attraction and retention of highly skilled individuals.

“The recommendations made by the commission members in their report speak directly to the heart of key economic issues for Saskatchewan,” said Ken Cheveldayoff, Enterprise Saskatchewan Minister. “Development and retention of a skilled workforce is integral to the prosperity and growth of this province and businesses, and absolutely necessary if we want to sustain this growth.”

Rapid growth turns up heat

The rapid growth experienced by Saskatchewan in 2007 and 2008, following years of workers leaving the province for greener pastures, plunged the province’s unemployment rate to 4.1 per cent in 2008.

While the economic downturn has slightly eased the pressure — in June the unemployment rate sat at 4.6 per cent — the commission warned it’s just a temporary reprieve.

“This economic slowdown should not lull people into a false sense of labour market security,” said the report. “Labour shortages are indeed coming and they will be general and widespread… there will be more jobs than people.”

Using historic growth figures, the province is expected to require an additional 120,000 workers by 2020 — about 10,000 per year on average. The problem is exacerbated by the fact many jobs will require a high level of education and the retirement of the province’s 170,500 baby boomers over the next two decades will leave a significant talent gap as their expertise leaves the workplace.

The impacts of a labour shortage include escalating wages as employers compete for scarce talent, a reduction in productivity as hiring standards decline and project delays or cancellations, according to the report.

Solutions to the shortage

There is no single answer to solving the problem — solutions will have to come from many different sources, stated the report, including:

• Increasing the employment rate of First Nation and Métis.

• A marked increase in the number of older workers in the economy.

• An enhanced workplace that increases participation of under-represented groups (women, older workers and those reporting a disability).

• Sustained, positive net interprovincial migration.

• Increased settlement of highly skilled immigrants.

The province’s Aboriginal people represent the single most important group who is not fully participating in the labour force, concluded the report.

Saskatchewan has the lowest level of Aboriginal labour force participation in Canada, and there is a substantial employment gap between Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people in the province, it said.

Tapping into this labour pool would add 20,000 potential workers, said the report, and the return on investment would be “substantial.”

“Conservative estimates have indicated employment parity for Aboriginal people would result in savings to social services, justice, corrections and other programs and services at over $500 million annually,” said the report, providing a compelling case for the province and the federal government to collaborate on initiatives to get Aboriginals into the workforce because both levels of government would save money.

Focusing on under-represented groups in the province also makes sense because those individuals are “already here, want to work and are likely to stay,” said the report. Tackling the barriers to employment for these groups — including lower education levels, prejudice, family commitments and other social issues — will take time but are well worth the effort.

As a next step in the province’s labour market development efforts, Enterprise Saskatchewan is establishing a sector issues council. The council will provide key advice on all stages of the new labour market strategy, from development through execution. The council is expected to hold its first meeting in September.

For more information on the report, visit www.gov.sk.ca.


By the numbers

Saskatchewan’s workforce, by generation

Age group

Population

Employed

Baby boomers (born 1949-1963)

212,024

170,500

Generation X (1964-1978)

184,910

151,600

Generation Y (1979-1993)

218,573

146,400

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