MONCTON – A survey by the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Moncton showed skilled-labour shortage is the leading issue for businesses in the area.
Thirty-eight per cent of the chamber’s members identified “difficulty finding employees with the right labour skills” as their biggest challenge, followed by a lack of customers at 22 per cent.
Of the respondents, nearly 49 per cent said they have a shortage of skilled workers. Almost 48 per cent of business owners say it’s “difficult” and “very difficult” to recruit and retain employees, while 42.5 per cent say it’s neither difficult nor easy. More than half of business owners (55 per cent) also said they’ve hired a newcomer in the past year.
“[The survey results] reinforce the view that finding the right labour for opportunities that exist is number one priority, I think, for a lot of business operators,” said chamber CEO John Wishart.
“I think it’s a sign, too, of the state of the economy. The economy is operating at a pretty good clip in [Greater Moncton], which is one of the reasons why I think there are so many job openings.”
Labour and immigration issues have only recently risen to the top of businesses’ priority list, Wishart said. Now more and more companies are looking outside the province and country for workers by using programs like the Atlantic Immigration Pilot.
Before, taxes, government red tape and the lack of jobs would have been more top-of-mind.
“Now there are enough jobs, but maybe not enough people to fill those jobs,” he said. “That’s certainly new for Atlantic Canada and new for Greater Moncton. It partly has to do with the demographic challenges, outmigration, low birth rate – there’s a lot of factors there. And it also has a long term impact on our ability to create tax revenues so we can continue to fund public services like healthcare and education.”
Investing in healthcare and education is one of the things that businesses (17 per cent) want the provincial government to prioritize this year. They also want the government to focus on lowering deficit and debt (25 per cent), and grow the population and attract more immigrants (22 per cent).
Taxation, government red tape, worksafe rates and financial and political stability remain the chamber’s short-term lobbying priorities. But its long-term list includes population growth, better immigration and filling workforce needs.
The CCGM is working to develop a workforce summit with the private sector, community colleges, universities and other stakeholders to come up with solutions to the workforce issue.
Despite the need to find workers, businesses in Greater Moncton remain optimistic about the region’s economy in 2019. Two-thirds of members see the economic conditions in the area as ‘positive’ and 16 per cent see it as “very positive.”
Confidence in the local economy also has many business operators predicting that their workforce will expand. In the next six months, almost 60 per cent of respondents expect their workforce to grow, while only 3.5 per cent anticipate a drop. Another 27.6 per cent predict no changes.
More than 70 per cent of the businesses surveyed said they’re well-prepared to handle demographic shifts like retirements, as well as the hiring of new graduates and those aged 55 and older.
But business owners were less optimistic about the province’s economy for this year. Over 41 per cent rate the economic condition of New Brunswick as “neutral,” and more than 35 per cent judged the conditions to be “negative.”
“I don’t think there’s the same level of confidence provincially partly because of the province’s financial situation and maybe a bit of uncertainty regarding the political situation with a minority government,” Wishart said.
The survey conducted between late November and mid-December received responses from 174 out of 761 chamber members.