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Sask. sees recession as opportunity to lure workers

Parminder Parmar, News, March 1 2009
Looking for a job? Government officials in Saskatchewan say the province is ripe with prospects.
While the rest of Canada has seen declining jobs and increasing numbers of workers hitting the unemployment lines as the recession worsens, Saskatchewan has been facing a labour shortage, says Rob Norris, the province’s labour minister.
“The message is clear: Saskatchewan is a land of opportunity,” Norris told on Feb. 20, adding his province is actively telling Canadians across the country to “consider moving.”
He points out that the numbers tell much of the story, saying that as much of North America has seen its unemployment numbers go up, Saskatchewan has been bucking the trend. According to Statistics Canada, the province’s unemployment rate dropped slightly from 4.2 per cent in December 2008 to 4.1 per cent in January 2009.
Saskatchewan added 1,600 jobs during that period, while provinces such as Ontario lost 71,000 and Quebec lost 25,000 month over month. Saskatchewan’s unemployment rate also remains significantly lower than in other provinces. Ontario’s unemployment rate hit eight per cent in January, Quebec’s climbed to 7.7 per cent and even B.C. topped the six per cent unemployment mark last month.
Norris says he recently spoke to a Saskatchewan resident who told him he’s just stopped “listening to the national news” because the economic news seems so much more bleak than the picture in his home province. He says employers had such a difficult time last year finding full-time employees that the province organized a trade mission to the Philippines and the Ukraine to fill the employment gap.
“It is not that we are immune to what is happening (in the global economy), but there are real jobs, high quality jobs here,” Norris says, listing off a slate of industries needing workers including manufacturing, education, health care, and resource sectors as some of the areas with worker shortfalls.
In November 2008, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business reported that employment expectations remain solid in the province with 32 per cent of owners expecting to add to their full-time employment levels over the next 12 month period. That compared with 23 per cent of business owners who were polled nationally. The CFIB also reported that only five per cent of Saskatchewan business owners reported they expected to cut back employment, compared with 16 per cent nationally.
Norris says Saskatchewan is now trying to seize the current opportunity to lure back workers it has lost over the decades to stronger economies.
“We’re focusing on our expats, (telling them) now is a great time to come back to the province,” he says.
Kael Campbell, the president of B.C.’s Red Seal Recruiting Solutions, says the current economic climate may force many Canadians to reconsider locating to western provinces for a better job. He notes that some parts of the country do appear to be doing better than others when it comes to the jobs picture.
Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta all have unemployment rates significantly lower than five per cent – while every other province has rates above six per cent, according to Statistics Canada.
But Campbell says job seekers need to consider a myriad of factors before deciding whether moving to another part of the country for a job is the right move – especially during a recession when provincial economies can take a turn for the worse quickly.
“Look for towns that have several things going for them … A diversified local economy is definitely important,” he says.
Campbell says that workers should be cautious about moving to towns or regions heavily dependent on one industry and instead should look for areas with a mixed economy that includes sectors such as tourism, government services, and high tech businesses.
Matthew Paul, a recruitment consultant for JobServe Canada, says even in tough economic environments, those considering packing and leaving one region of the country for another should remember that the experience can be a “disruptive process” even in the best of times.
In addition to family considerations, he says workers need to consider other factors, including the cost of living differences between regions.
“If you have a job that you find in Vancouver, what is the difference in cost of living? The real estate prices there are considerably higher than in, for example, Ontario,” he says.
Paul says for many people it may be worth staying put and trying to find a job in their home province before venturing into other parts of the country. He also noted that in the current economic volatility it’s difficult to predict when a particular region of the country may take a sudden downturn.
Just this month, Alberta, which had been seen for years as one of the country’s fastest growing economies, reported that it would table a budget deficit, its first in more than a decade. And although Alberta’s unemployment rate is lower than the national average, provincial officials have said they expect thousands of job losses as the recession progresses.
Norris admits that the international economic climate is volatile, saying Saskatchewan is monitoring the changing situation as closely as other parts of Canada.
“I am dealing with a split screen. In the short term we know we are not immune to what is going on around us,” he says.
But after years of seeing the best and brightest leave his province for better economies, Norris says the province sees its opportunity.
“We’re not going to be shy about this. For generations Saskatchewan has produced talented workers who have left. Now, we want to meet our talent challenge,” he says.