Prince Edward Islands economy has outpaced our national economy for the last five years and continues to lead the nation in real GDP growth. We are in a time of unique expansion and compounding challenges. In 2019 every province of Canada experienced an economic expansion but with growth comes resource constraint.
Growth has been a geographic refrain in 2019. As of January 10th, the US unemployment rate held fast at 3.5 per cent, a multi-year low. Prince Edward Island’s traditionally seasonal economy is also troughing to unprecedented lows, in December 2019 unemployment hit 7.9 per cent (relative to a national average of 5.6% and 11.8% in Newfoundland and Labrador). The sixth consecutive month Island unemployment rate has remained under 9.0 per cent, an anomaly in modern times.
The strong Island economy is inducing predictable behavior. Amplified opportunities are engaging more of the workforce as our labour is peaking to new highs for engaged employment with over 80,000 Islanders currently participating in the labour market (from a population of under 160,000). Labour demand is up, minimum wages are rising, workers seeking employment are migrating to the hot labour market – and vacancy rates have dropped to unsustainable levels.
Growth causes constraint and no place is this more pronounced than the housing sector. CMHC reports PEI’s vacancy rate to be 0.3 per cent in November 2019, arguably lower in urban centers and below other metropolis markets like Toronto and Vancouver. Available, affordable accommodations in a highly seasonal economy and tourism-heart is a further frustration to challenged HR professionals. It is not uncommon for mobile employees who want to work in PEI to step back once the housing statistics are researched.
There are many drivers to the nested Islands growth from good policy, pent up demand, a creative and resilient entrepreneurial culture; but principally population growth. Expanding economies require growing populations, and PEI is a case study in growth fundamentals.
The mosaic of the Prince Edward Island labour force is also undergoing one of the most profound changes since the province was settled by Western Europeans in the 1700’s. A traditionally homogeneous culture has only witnessed impacts by small and targeted waves of immigration outside largely western source countries.
Migration catalysts can be either both push and pull motivators. Pull-factors are traditionally economic and the pursuit of better conditions or environments. Push-factors are motivations to leave a country of origin and generally driven through economic, social or political unrest. In the last decade, our quiet Island has measurably benefited by both push and pull immigration. Islander’s ‘pulled’ to other regions are repatriating due to slowing western economic conditions and on affinity to the casual east coast lifestyle.
Looking empirically at newcomer migration data, increases are evident and the visual mosaic (identification of newcomers versus natively born Islanders) touches every corner of the province. From 1991 – 2000, Prince Edward Island welcomed 665 newcomer residences. By 2001 – 2010, there were 1,890 newcomers included in our census; and from 2011 – 2016, 3,360 were registered as Islanders.
This growth is by design and part of a population strategy to combat what was a steep forecasted population decline based on Island baby boom demographics. The population has now stabilized, and the economy is booming but constrained under success.
Human Resourcing has undergone a dramatic professionalization in response to these conditions. In March 2017, a local Chartered Professionals in Human Resources chapter was established (CPHR PEI) and the profession has flourished as organizations demand more professionalization in dealing with unprecedented HR demands.
Last year the Island service industry grew exponentially faster than the goods producing sector, labour migration became an important contributor to labour constraints. CPHR professionals adapted to the dynamic complexities of employers demands maturing beyond standard practice to develop policies for inclusion, diversity and cultural awareness as well as familiarity with immigration programming. Spawned through necessity, the mosaic quilt of Island employees now extends into our most remote rural communities and the welcoming nature of Islanders has embraced the richness of this diversity long denied.
As Canada’s smallest provinces continues to lead the nation in projected economic growth, population forecasts respond with accelerated population. The economy has transformed from a declining working population in 2012 to a dynamic and diverse population supporting a bustling economy. CPHR professionals scope and complexity of practice has expanded to accommodate the dimensions of a growing economy, expanding workforce and accompanying challenges.
Blake Doyle, HR Reporter – April 2020