Immigrants filling the gaps

Posted by admin on Dec 10th, 2003

CanWest News Service, 30 December 2003
Eric Beauchesne

Three provinces and two major cities are dependent on immigrants to keep their workforces from shrinking, a business and labour think-tank says in an analysis to be released today. And other jurisdictions will soon find themselves in the same boat, according to the Canadian Labour and Business Centre.

The study found that were it not for immigration, Nova Scotia, and to a lesser extent, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, plus the country’s two most populous cities, Toronto and Montreal, would actually have suffered a drop in workforce population.

“Immigration is the New Year’s wish for growing Canada’s labour force,” the think-tank says in the analysis.

Nova Scotia had only a modest increase in its labour force between 1991 and 2001 – rising to 451,375 from 447,525, an increase of 3,850, it says. However, net immigration to Nova Scotia over that decade was 4,770.

Take away workforce immigration, and that province’s labour force would have actually been in decline, it said. Similar findings were evident for Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and for Toronto and Montreal, it adds.

In Nova Scotia, immigration accounted for 124 per cent of the growth in that province’s labour force, with immigrants accounting for 104 per cent in Saskatchewan and 101 per cent in Manitoba, as well as 132 per cent of the labour force in Toronto and 114 per cent in Montreal.

The combination of an aging population and declining birth rates means that in some jurisdictions the available workforce is shrinking, it says.

“We would predict that this trend will continue in 2004 and beyond,” says Shirley Seward, head of the labour market research organization.

“Other jurisdictions will likely be joining the ranks of those where immigration is the difference between a growth or contraction in the workforce.”

Ontario, Vancouver and Ottawa would be the likely next additions to this list, she says.

According to the centre’s analysis, immigrants accounted for 97 per cent of Ontario’s labour-force growth over the past decade, 91 per cent of Vancouver’s and 63 per cent of the national capital region’s.

“Perhaps understanding how important immigration is to our economy will help us focus on the challenges being faced by today’s immigrants,” she says. “Too often, these people are struggling to have their credentials recognized, to get the language training they need to prosper in Canada.

“Canada still attracts exceptional people to our shores – this country has so much to offer immigrants, but we could do a better job helping these people integrate into our economy,” she says.

Earlier this year, the think-tank issued a report saying that it now takes more than 10 years for immigrants to fully participate in Canada’s job market, with employment and earnings levels matching those of native-born Canadians, double the time it took
20 years ago.

The Conference Board of Canada has forecast a million skilled jobs could go begging within 20 years while the Canadian Federation of Independent Business says the existing skills shortage among smaller businesses is already as high as 300,000.

Statistics Canada census figures revealed this year that the labour force is awash with baby boomers eyeing retirement, foreshadowing a shortage of everything from doctors to bricklayers within a decade and a heightened reliance on immigrants to fill some highly skilled jobs, the latest census figures show.

The Business and Labour Centre, noting that “immigration has been an important if not critical part of Canada’s labour supply,” added that “the last decade of the 20th century has been no exception.”

It notes that 70 per cent of the 1.4-million increase in the labour force between 1991 and 2001 was due to immigration.

And many of those immigrants were highly skilled or educated, it added in the report, which was done for the policy division of Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

“In 2001, 46 per cent of new immigrants aged 15 and over held a university degree, and an additional 14 per cent held a non-university diploma or trade certificate,” the report says.

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