If P.E.I.’s economy continues to grow, employers will have to respond with better pay, hiring more immigrants, and more mechanization, says the head of a local recruiting company.
Island Recruiting helps match employers and employees in the marketplace. Owner Blake Doyle opened the consulting company about 12 years ago “because we recognized there was going to be some demographic changes to the labour market in P.E.I.”
“We’ve been a little bit slow to catch up to the current condition that we find ourselves in,” he said. “Today there’s lots of labour constraint, employers are challenged.”
It’s not news to employers on P.E.I. that there’s a labour shortage — “we don’t have enough labour to meet the demands in the current environment,” Doyle said.
“Historically, you would look for great people,” Doyle said. Now, “in a lot of cases, you’re happy to find somebody that can fill a vacancy, especially if it’s an unexpected vacancy.”
‘You’re going to have to pay’
One of the best investments employers can make is retaining employees who are already trained, Doyle said. Another is increasing wages, he said, whether it is mandated by government or not.
“That does cause inflation, it will cause price escalation, it will affect the economy over time — but there’s going to be more demand on good labour, and you’re going to have to pay for that,” he said.
Employers currently find themselves in a bind for a couple of reasons, Doyle said: one is the demographic shift. As recently as 2012, a change began in the productive labour force that saw more people leaving the labour force than enter it. But some “aggressive” policy decisions stopped that trajectory, Doyle said.
Another reason for the labour crunch is the strong economy: over the last five years, the P.E.I. economy has grown faster than the national average, he said.
“Now we’re in a position where the economy is growing, and in fact rather than lose employees we’ve got people coming in to fill vacancies in the labour market,” Doyle said.
“Any time there’s growth there’s constraint — there’s constraint in space, in input costs — raw materials — and certainly in labour,” Doyle said.
The trend is being seen across North America, Doyle said. In P.E.I. the unemployment rate has been under nine per cent for six months in a row, which he calls “unprecedented” — he points out there are more people working on P.E.I. than ever.
What’s in store?
When not able to find enough workers, more companies will start to mechanize more — this will include more self-checkouts and self-operated kiosks, and more operations automated in businesses “back shops,” Doyle said.
Labour immigration will become even more important, he said. Last year, P.E.I. brought in about 1,500 foreign labour participants. Doyle said 88 per cent of all immigration on P.E.I. is now labour immigration. Whether that continues will depend on the economy, he said.
Even if the economy doesn’t grow as quickly as it has been, baby boomers will continue to exit the labour market and “that will have to be filled someplace, by some cohort — either currently underrepresented groups in the province, or people that we welcome to come to P.E.I.”
Employers should be able to see what’s coming, he said, as the trends are predictable and observable.
“Progressive companies need to have a strategy how to fill those vacancies,” Doyle said. “And it’s not just filling the vacancy but you could lose a career-worth of data or knowledge people have built up — how do you capture that in a succession?”
Doyle has seen the marketplace for recruiters like him change, too. When he started he said he had little competition on P.E.I. but now new local recruiting companies have emerged as well as government organizations. He’d said he would like to see more collaboration between government and private industry.
“I don’t think government in any incarnation is really connecting with leaders in industry to try to find solutions to this challenge,” he said. “I think there’s a whole bunch of missed opportunities.”