There's no place like home

55 per cent of Canadians won't relocate – regardless of incentives

It’s a problem that’s cited often when we talk about the “skills mismatch”: Unemployed workers aren’t always ready and willing to relocate to where the jobs are.

A new study sheds further light on that phenomenon, suggesting less than half of the workforce could be convinced to move for a job.

Fifty-five per cent of Canadians said they won’t relocate for work, regardless of the incentives offered, according to an Ipsos Reid survey of more than 2,000 people, commissioned by the Toronto-based Canadian Employee Relocation Council (CERC).

On average, 46 per cent of Canadians said they might take a job or work contract that would force them to move.

The fact that so many Canadians demonstrated such a reluctance to move speaks to the complexity of labour mobility, according to Stephen Cryne, president and CEO of CERC.

“The challenge today is it’s far more complex than ever before. We’ve got double-income families, many of those young professionals — they’re both in professional positions. They’ve got constraints and concerns on family and housing issues, so I think it’s a lot more complicated.”

The findings were not a surprise, he said.

“It just underscores the challenges that we’ve got with skills gaps in this country, where we’ve got areas in the country where there are excellent job opportunities, but it’s difficult to convince people to take those.”

Barriers to labour mobility

The survey was timely, given the nationwide controversy over the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, said Dan Kelly, president and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).

“It is a useful reality check for a lot of Canadians who believe that all an employer needs to do is just pay a bit more and they’ll have a plethora of candidates, regardless of where they happen to be in Canada,” he said.

“The ability to get Canadians to pick up their lives, leave their families and move to remote parts of a province they’ve never been to before is just unlikely to happen. And even if an employer digs deep and improves their wages, still it’s unlikely to happen.”

Family life and relationships are a huge aspect of this, said Kelly.

“Often if you’re relocating, you’re losing whatever support network you had and close friends and contacts. And so we have a variety of programs that help support Canadians to stay in the areas that they’re from. Employment insurance would be the most notable of them,” he said.

“And Canadians are often quite choosy about the kinds of jobs they have — and I’m not suggesting that’s a negative thing, but it is just a reality.”

Credential recognition is also a factor when it comes to interprovincial mobility, though some movement has been made on that front, said Kelly.

But interprovincial movement isn’t the only area where there are potential barriers.

“It’s also intraprovince — from urban to rural areas. And a lot of the jobs, especially in the resource sector, are in areas where there are just not a lot of people,” he said.

“It’s a big deal for somebody who’s only lived in the city to consider going and living in a town of 500 people. It’s very, very difficult to convince them to do that.”

‘The long commute’ and demographic trends

Another important consideration is the fact many workers are taking jobs in more remote locations without actually relocating, said Deatra Walsh, a sociologist and labour market expert based in Iqaluit.

“I do a lot of work on long-distance labour mobility, or what people are referring to as ‘the long commute.’ And that enables people to stay in place and make decisions so that they don’t have to move or relocate for a variety of reasons — they don’t want to uproot their families, they don’t want to uproot their kids or they already own their house.”

Because of enhanced technology, communication, infrastructure and the dynamics of labour markets, people are able to move around for work and yet still have a place of residence somewhere else, she said.

“People know now that they don’t necessarily need to relocate — and men in particular are (often the ones) doing these kinds of jobs that enable them to commute. The family can stay where they are and things don’t need to change, but they can conceivably work up north or work abroad or work out west.”

Typically, it’s younger workers who are the most mobile, according to the statistics and literature on the subject, said Walsh — so younger workers are generally more likely to relocate instead of commuting.

“And in terms of the gendered dimension, there’s no way to ignore it. We’re going to see men most mobile,” she said.

“Historically, even in the relocation equation, it was often women were moving as tied migrants with men. And that’s not so much (the case) anymore.”

Going mobile

So how can we build a more mobile workforce? There are plenty of opportunities where creative incentives may help, said Cryne.

“Can we find some ways to assist employees with housing concerns, moving from areas where prices are lower, and they have to go into higher-priced markets?” he asked.

“That struck me as being an opportunity where the government may be able to offer some creative ideas in order to motivate and incent people to consider moving.

“For example… we could have a plan similar to what we have for the first-time homebuyers program, where there are particular tax incentives.”

From a government perspective, there are a lot of different incentives that could be put in place — but we need to start thinking outside the box, said Cryne.

“One of the things we didn’t put in that study, for example — and this could be an incentive that maybe we have for young professionals — is assistance with repayment of student loans for individuals that take on a (remotely located) job.”

That’s just one of many ideas that will hopefully arise as a broader discussion around labour mobility issues gains more traction, he said.

“This (survey) is part of a three-part strategy… we’re trying to develop a mobility framework for Canada, which includes elements of immigration, temporary foreign workers, how do we get Canadians to be more mobile,” said Cryne.

“I don’t think we’ve had a robust discussion about this in the Canadian context, about how mobility can solve some of these problems for us.”

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