This is the first in a series about the changing labour market and economic growth in Greater Moncton.
MONCTON – David St-Pierre of Bathurst says all of his friends in his hometown have moved out. Like him, many are in Greater Moncton, a region that’s been attracting people from the north of the province but is now turning to international and interprovincial immigrants to sustain economic growth.
“I don’t have any young friends [in Bathurst] anymore. When I go to Bathurst it’s mostly to visit my family,” he says.
“Most of my older relatives over there, they have their career, they have their homes and their routines and everything. So they’re all set pretty much. But for younger people, they don’t have any opportunities.”
Now a programmer with the federal government, the applied computer science graduate feels fortunate to be working in his field. It took him 11 months to get that job, but many of his friends are still looking for work that fits their skills.
“I consider myself very lucky. But most of my friends I see them either working overtime, maybe 60 to 80 hours a week, or some of my friends they don’t know if they’re going to have enough shifts to actually pay their rent. So, it’s difficult,” he says. “They have to branch out of their original field of studies to find something that would pay the bills.”
“I think there’s a disconnect somewhere. Because I’m seeing people everywhere saying that we need more qualified workers and then I have a lot of my friends which are unemployed saying, ‘we can’t find any jobs.’ Those who do find jobs, find jobs that maybe pay $12-$13 an hour. Ridiculous salaries,” St-Pierre says.
During his job search, St-Pierre saw many opportunities. He especially saw the advantage of networking events that are common in the IT sector. After the first such event, he received 20 interview offers in one month.
Honestly, last year, I had three jobs. I worked full time at my main job and I was helping a startup build their application and also teaching high school children programming. I think honestly around here there are lots of opportunities but you have to know where to look,” he says.
The problem is, he said, very few employers would hire someone with no experience.
“Everyone’s looking for two, three years of experience,” he said. “There are a lot of young people who just want to get a chance to prove themselves and do a good job, but since people don’t hire people with no experience, it’s difficult.”
Statistics Canada’s recent latest labour force surveys show Greater Moncton’s job market continues to be stronger than other parts of New Brunswick. In the last year alone, the employed labour force has grown by more than 7,000.
But the region still faces a labour shortage, say analysts and economic developers, and it’s seeking international and interprovincial migrants to fill the talent demand.
“The numbers have completely flipped. Immigration now is the dominant [population] growth factor. While way back it was intra-provincial migration,” said Frederic Gionet, 3Plus VP of Business Intelligence and Operations.
Greater Moncton now sees international immigration fuelling its population growth. Of the average 2,000 people a year that move to the area, more than 50 per cent are now international migrants. The region needs between 2,500 and 3,000 immigrants a year for the next five years to maintain a modest economic growth. That’s the number 3plus aims for in its regional economic development strategy.
David Campbell, the President of Jupia Consultants and the former Chief Economist of the New Brunswick Jobs Board Secretariat, says there’s just not as many people in New Brunswick anymore. Population growth in the past five years was significantly less than the previous five-year period.
“The absolute number of people that could potentially be attracted from other parts of the province to Moncton or Fredericton or Saint John, that number is a lot lower now than 10 years ago or 15 years ago.”
In the 1990s to early 2000s, many people moved from rural New Brunswick to Greater Moncton for economic purposes. Francophone communities in the north that had cultural ties to the bilingual region fuelled most of the population growth.
Data from Statistics Canada show that the numbers of intra-provincial migration to Greater Moncton remained at an average of around 980 people a year between 2001 and 2012. It reached a high of 1,243 in 2010/2011. But in 2014/2015, that figure fell to only 593. It rose to 808 the year after but didn’t grow beyond that in 2016/2017.
“In past years, you see migration from within New Brunswick, you saw that kind of southern bound trend,” said Kevin Silliker, the economic development director for the City of Moncton. “That seems to have matured. I think that bigger wave of migration from within the province is, for the most part, we’re past that.”
Gionet says the young people who could move to Greater Moncton have done so, while the older generations prefer to stay in their home communities. This is the case in Bathurst, St-Pierre says. Since the mine and paper mill closed in the last 13 years, more people have moved out and few young people are starting their own businesses.
But intra-provincial migration is not something Moncton encourages anyway, Silliker says.
“That’s really not a sustainable model and not something that moves New Brunswick forward,” he says. “We want to see New Brunswick grow, we want to see Atlantic Canada grow. So, we really don’t try to attract from within New Brunswick. We try to attract from outside of the region, from other parts of Canada, from the U.S. and internationally as well.”
Joël Roy, originally from Robertville, a village near Bathurst, said youth from northern New Brunswick are still moving to Moncton. But they’re also looking at bigger cities.
“If it weren’t for my sister, I would leave Moncton and move to a bigger city. Maybe Halifax. Bathurst is out of the question,” he says.
Roy, who studied radio and worked in the media industry, said he does see many job opportunities in Greater Moncton. But many of them pay minimum wage, are part-time, or are unrelated to his field.
Roy has worked in call centres for several years and is now content as a receptionist at The Times & Transcript. He now tries to actively network and get more training to maintain job security. He said he’s willing to look at other fields, particularly IT. But student loans and living cost stop him from switching.
“If I don’t win the lottery, I can’t go back to studies. I have rent, utilities and everything like that. I need to eat,” he said.