With Saskatchewan’s strong economy and aging population, hiring workers from overseas is a good way for employers to mitigate the effects of the labour shortage.
That was the message delivered by Linda West, one of the presenters at a meeting organized by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy on Tuesday. She also said the current labour shortage will become more pronounced in the years ahead, as more baby boomers leave the workforce.
"We’re hearing that so many companies are being restricted from the point of view of growth and development (because of a shortage of workers)," she said. "Our economy’s being impacted today, but … whatever your shortage is today, it’s going to double every three to five years."
The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses recently reported that Saskatchewan currently has a job "vacancy rate" of 6.6 per cent.
West said that Saskatchewan enjoys the advantage of having a growing aboriginal population, which promises to provide the economy with more potential workers in the years ahead. But that is only one part of the solution to the province’s labour shortage.
"No matter what we do, we can’t just depend on (growth from within). We’re going to have to depend on immigration," she said.
That’s why employers should do more to recruit workers from places like the Philippines, West said. As she explained, people from the Philippines are well-suited to working in North America because they’ve received an English education as children.
West also said that the Philippines, which has a growing population (currently at about 90 million people) sharing a land mass about the size of Saskatchewan, sees out-migration as a way to ease crowding.
"They’re specifically educating people way beyond their needs so that (other countries) can depend on the Philippines for immigration without damaging their economy," she said.
"Sending people into the world became an industry," added Angelito Hernandez, president of a Philippines-based company that specializes in overseas recruitment.
The Philippines also realizes a direct economic benefit when its citizens go to other countries to work — such as the 300 nurses who were recently recruited by the provincial government. For example, the country received $1.3 billion in remittances as a result of overseas recruitment in February alone. Over the course of a year, the country receives about $15 billion in payments, West said.
"And that’s the official remittance. The unofficial (total) is several billion dollars more," she added.
One of the challenges employers face in recruiting workers from the Philippines, however, is Canada’s restrictive immigration legislation. According to David Seymour, a policy analyst with the Frontier Centre, many of the immigration rules were instituted at a time when there weren’t enough jobs to go around, which is no longer the case.
He noted that the federal government is now moving forward with proposed changes to our immigration policies, but he credits the provinces with bringing the issue to the forefront.
"Immigration policy needs to adapt from a labour glut to a labour shortage," he said.