Some time ago, we published articles dealing with the problems local businesses are facing in finding skilled tradespeople. There are simply not enough carpenters, masons, electricians, and so on in North Grenville, and it seems that the schools are not encouraging young people to go into those fields. Now a new scheme is being implemented in the United Counties and surrounding areas to try and fill that gap. However, there is no indication that North Grenville will be able to benefit directly from it.
A collaboration, consisting of Economic Development Offices from Brockville, Gananoque, Prescott and the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville, along with the Employment + Education Centre (EEC), CSE Consulting, KEYS and St. Lawrence College, have received funding from SkillsAdvance Ontario for a project called Pathways to Production. The $500,000 in funding will, it is hoped, provide “a pipeline of skilled employees to fill local job opportunities, add value to the local manufacturing sector by reducing costs and increasing productivity through retention strategies, on-boarding, coaching, mentoring and post-hiring support”, according to a statement release by the partners involved in the scheme.
One local construction company told me that they could hire twice as many workers as they currently have, such is the amount of work available in this area. But those workers are not out there. Another very successful local company is looking for at least four trained mechanics to maintain their vehicles, again without success.
This is not only a local problem. In a report prepared at the end of last year by the Business Development Bank of Canada, called “Labour Shortage: Here to Stay”, the picture painted is not hopeful. During 2018 in Ontario, 48% of construction companies found it difficult to hire new workers. The number in the retail sector was 54%, and Manufacturing found it hardest of all at 56%. The overall conclusion of the Report was: “Close to 40% of Canadian small and medium-sized businesses are already having difficulty hiring new employees and the situation is getting worse. As our population ages and baby boomers retire, growth in Canada’s labour force is forecast to fall to near zero. We do not expect labour shortages to get better for at least a decade”.
The Economic Development Offices of Brockville and United Counties of Leeds and Grenville have conducted research that statistically support this need. The area’s Employment Service Providers have tried to help manufacturing employers hire over 200 employees in the past 12 months and have noted the same concerns.
SkillsAdvance Ontario funds partnerships that connect employers with the employment and training services required to recruit and advance workers with the right essential, technical, and employability skills. It also supports jobseekers to obtain employment by providing them with sector-specific employment and training services, and connecting them to the right employers.
MPP Steve Clark states, “I’m glad to see local educators, trainers and employers stepping up to create opportunities in Prescott, Brockville and Gananoque. Through this project, we’re giving 50 people a fair shot at leaving unemployment and gaining good, permanent jobs. Whenever I visit a local manufacturer, one of the first concerns they raise is the need for more skilled workers. This is an issue we have to address as a region to attract new investment and I’m proud our government is supporting this effort to create a larger skilled workforce.”
Ann Weir, Economic Development Officer for United Counties of Leeds and Grenville, says “We continue to have a very strong manufacturing base in the Leeds Grenville. Manufacturers were immediately open to working together to develop and grow their skilled workforce which ultimately positions the region well for the future.”
It remains to be seen whether the Pathways to Production project will include North Grenville at some point. The need here, in this rapidly-growing part of the province, continues to shackle development and economic growth.