The Atlantic Immigration Pilot officially launched this week and we at the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce are optimistic that it will make a meaningful impact in Fredericton and throughout the region. A good example of the federal and provincial governments working well together to support business needs, the pilot is aimed at attracting and retaining skilled workers and international students. These are two groups that are highly coveted by every province in Canada and jurisdictions throughout the world and we are hopeful that the pilot will give Atlantic Canada a leg-up. So why are they so important?
By now we are all familiar with the province’s demographic challenges. We need our population to get larger and younger - as quickly as possible. New Brunswick can never be sustainable or self-sufficient without a major shift in this direction. To grow our population without immigration,repatriation, and the like we would need a fertility rate of about 2.4 - New Brunswick typically hovers below 1.6. We also have the second-oldest population in Canada, which means fewer people in the workforce and more strain on health care system and social services.
Skilled workers coming into the province via the pilot must have a full-time job offer. Employers are still required to attempt to fill positions locally first - which they would in any event. Hiring a local worker is cheaper, quicker and involves fewer potential challenges. If a business can hire someone already in their community, they will.
But what if they can’t?
Not having the right employees in place can be a death knell for business. Particularly in the growing and dynamic knowledge sector - at the heart of Fredericton’s economy - companies need to be able to move quickly, adapt to changing circumstances and not spend months trying to fill key positions.
Across industries and regions, skills training has not kept pace with innovation, advances in technology and emerging sectors. Businesses are struggling to fill key positions, which limits productivity and growth. Even when the unemployment rate is high, having available workers doesn’t mean they have the right skills that businesses need at a the time. The search for talent is global and this pilot (which specifically targets high-skilled and intermediate-skilled workers) gives us a better chance to compete for badly needed workers.
Similarly, international students are a growth driver in their own right (adding about $200 million to New Brunswick’s GDP annually), but the potential of being able to retain more of them for the long-term after graduation could mean generations of benefit to the province. They are young and skilled, ready to begin careers and raise families. The more that New Brunswick is known as a place with top-flight postsecondary education, employment opportunities and a supportive community to raise children, the more it will become a destination for newcomers. Our reputation will have a chance to pick up momentum and snowball.
The time is right for Fredericton and New Brunswick to make our mark attracting newcomers. With the Atlantic Immigration Pilot, the recent announcement of healthcare for international students in New Brunswick, anti-globalist movements popping up over the world, an influx of refugees, support of all levels of government and the community, the stars may be aligning to kickstart a demographic comeback.
At the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, we are running three complementary programs aimed at assisting immigrant entrepreneurs. The Business Immigrant Mentorship Program, Hive Incubator and Succession Connect matching program each provide support at various stages of business development. This work has shown us the positive impact that newcomers make in our community beyond the economic and demographic boost. Their enthusiasm for their new home is infectious. It’s a reminder of how lucky we are to live in such a wonderful city and province. But it’s also a reminder that we must keep growing in order to keep it that way. The Atlantic Growth Pilot is another step in that direction. Let’s get that snowball rolling.
Krista Ross is CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce. With more than 950 members, the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce is one of Atlantic Canada’s largest chambers of commerce. A dynamic business organization, the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce is actively engaged in policy development that affects the competitiveness of our members and of the Canadian business environment. It’s vision is Community Prosperity Through Business.