by Gloria Welton
Islanders have been known to talk about the weather daily but there is a new conversation that has taken over: what to do about staff shortages here and everywhere.
The percentage of jobs that were not filled on PEI has increased considerably from a year ago. The construction sector is struggling with labour shortages and the accommodations and food services sectors are also reporting difficulties attracting and retaining workers. Statistics Canada reports the nursing vacancies this year are more than triple what they were five years ago.
According to the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council (APEC), employment has reached pre-pandemic levels across most sectors within the region, increasing 2.6 percent in the first four months of 2022. However, many industries are now struggling with labour shortages.
APEC states that wages are increasing, but they are not keeping up with inflation. For example, average weekly earnings in Atlantic Canada were over three percent higher in the first two months of 2022, but inflation during the same period was 7.5 percent on PEI.
In my career as a publisher, I have heard it said many times that challenges mean opportunities. I believe we need to be creative when recruiting and retaining staff. Also, it has always been important to prepare youth and others who are about to enter the workforce on PEI. But now it is of the utmost importance to help the broader public become aware of their career options and supports in place.
Some say it is not just a matter of having a broad and expansive hiring and staffing strategy because people are just not there to recruit.
However, do we know what our workforce really looks like? And do we know what measures are needed to work with those who are in the workforce, will be entering soon, or could potentially enter with the right supports in place?
Let’s take a look at the Island labour market and how shortages can be addressed over the short and long-term. We begin with our future workers, who were in elementary and secondary system for the 2021-22 school year.
There were currently 21,199 students in the system, which is broken down like this:
- Public Schools Branch – 19,543 students
- La Commission scolaire de langue française (CSLF) – 1,099 students
- Private schools – 557 students
It is so important to continue to find ways to help our youth become aware of all their career options and supports. The Employment Journey staff regularly connect with educators to help them bring career conversations into the classroom. It is also important for business community groups to keep an open line of communication with our school systems.
Recent university graduate Jenna Woods says she decided on a career in social work when she was in her grade 10 Career Exploration and Opportunities (CEO) class. “My teacher was amazing and encouraged all students to explore many career options that appealed to us.”
Below is a look at the number of students in some of the post-secondary system on PEI, during the 2021-22 school year:
University of Prince Edward Island – Enrollment for 2021-2022 was 5,419, which includes full- and part-time undergraduate and graduate students. The total number of graduates this year is 1,062. This number includes the first graduates from its campus in New Cairo, Egypt- 45 graduates received their degrees in business, engineering, and science on August 14, 2022.
Holland College– Holland College welcomed approximately 2,500 full-time and 40 part-time post-secondary students in over 65 different programs across the Island during the 2021/2022 academic year. In addition, Holland College offers numerous degree pathways for students, Adult Education, and Language Instruction for Newcomers. The College also offers a variety of post-secondary programs at campuses in China.
“We are pleased to congratulate approximately 1,160 post-secondary graduates from PEI who successfully completed their programs of study during the past academic year,” says Dr. Alexander (Sandy) MacDonald, President of Holland College.
There are 15 Private Training Schools Registered on PEI preparing people for employment.
Katherine McQuaid at the Academy of Learning College says that all the programs offered at the private college and at Marguerite Connolly Training and Consulting include work and clinical placements. A combined 124 students were enrolled in the 2021-22 college year.
“I believe our high employment rate after graduation is due to students getting hands-on experience as part of their program,” she says. “I have found over the years that employers are great to reach out to us when they are looking for staff. We can usually provide a match and give them candidates that they can interview or provide an on the job training (OJT) placement to see if they are a good fit.
“We want to collaborate and include employer feedback into our programming as much as we can, and this works well with OJT and clinical placements.”
Initiatives that support the needs of PEI’s labour force
Over the years, The Employment Journey has done articles on many initiatives across PEI that help those on EI or on financial assistance to enter and remain in the workforce with supports in place that make a difference in a person’s life.
In June 2022, 4,450 people received regular Employment Insurance (EI) benefits on PEI, down 1,380 recipients from May 2022. The unemployment rate for Atlantic Canada fell to a record low of 7.4 percent in April 2022.
On average, there were about 3,150 cases (families and single adults) and just under 5,100 beneficiaries (individual claimants, their partners, and dependent children) on PEI’s Social Assistance Program during 2020-21. During this timeframe, on average, 5.3 percent of people on PEI under 65 received the AccessAbility Supports Program or the Social Assistance Program, which is 1 in 19 people.
A number of organizations on PEI work directly with people to help them plan their career path and offer support to help make career dreams and goals come to life.
SkillsPEI works closely with a number of external service providers who assist unemployed individuals to prepare for, obtain, and maintain employment. There are 23 organizations and locations listed on the SkillsPEI website. Each offers employment services to job seekers and partners with the business community to help job seekers connect with local employers.
There are many employment services and training programs on PEI that work directly with job seekers. The Employment Journey regularly updates this extensive list of service providers.
Building literacy and skills
Let’s now look at barriers that might be contributing to staff shortages. According to the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, almost half of adults on PEI do not have the skills needed to thrive in our digital, knowledge-based society.
Jinny Greaves, Executive Director of the PEI Literacy Alliance, says the Alliance continues to work with community partners, government departments, and businesses to improve the present state of literacy on PEI.
The Alliance is focused on building confidence in adults and children when it comes to learning. “All that potential can be brought to light with a little bit of opportunity and support, and people can end up doing so much more than they ever thought they could,” says Jinny.
For more information about the PEI Literacy Alliance, call 902-368-3620. Visit www.peiliteracy.ca
Learning disabilities can be another obstacle holding people back from reaching their career aspirations. A person with a learning disability (LD) may have difficulty reading, writing, spelling, reasoning, recalling, and/or organizing. This is due to a difference in the way the brain processes information. Other LDs affect a person’s ability to do math, listen to instructions, organize their thoughts, and more.
Research tells us that a learning disability is not related to intellect. In fact, people with LDs have average or above-average IQs.
If you have a learning disability, know that you are not alone. A survey conducted by the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada found that three to 10 percent of Canadian adults experience a learning disability. That means that up to 9,200 Islanders are experiencing a learning disability.
A new initiative now available for employees across PEI is the ADAPT Program. ADAPT is a partnership between Workplace Learning PEI and the Government of New Brunswick’s Virtual Learning Strategy adult-learner support model, funded in part by the Government of Canada (Employment and Social Development Canada).
Administered through Workplace Learning PEI, this program provides Island employers and workers with FREE access to a suite of virtual services to screen for, diagnose, and support people with learning disabilities in the workplace.
For more information, contact Mary Beth Byrnes at Workplace Learning PEI at 902-626-5299. Visit www.workplacelearningpei.com/adapt-program/
Martin Dutton, Executive Director of the Learning Disabilities Association of PEI, says many people go through life never knowing why they have difficulties with academics and why they may be having problems in their education, their employment, or relationships with family and friends.
“If someone has the courage to recognize there is something they would like to address when it comes to learning, we are here to help you,” says Martin.
For more information, about the Learning Disabilities Association of PEI call 902-894-5032. Visit www.ldapei.ca
Chamber of commerce recognizes staff shortages
In a recent survey, 32 percent of business owners polled by the Greater Summerside Chamber of Commerce considered labour recruitment to be the biggest issue facing the business community.
“The shortage of skilled labour is being felt across industries,” says Jessica Cormier, Event and Marketing Manager with the Greater Summerside Chamber of Commerce. “The retail and food services industries have been particularly affected, with many businesses reducing their hours of operation or adapting the services they offer due to staff shortages.
“The trades have also been substantially impacted. While there are many trade programs on the Island, local businesses have reported that graduates are being poached by businesses off Island.”
Part of the solution, she says, is making jobs and the community more attractive to prospective employees. “With the resulting lack of new skilled workers, many businesses are focusing on retention of employees, specifically by providing added benefits and flexibility to their working conditions.”
The Chamber is helping its members recruit employees though its on-line job posting board and by holding frequent workshops and networking events.
The Summerside Chamber is also working with local government to promote economic growth in the area. “As the voice for local businesses in the community, we can help bring the issues that affect local businesses to the attention of policy makers.”
The Kensington & Area Chamber of Commerce is hearing about similar staff shortage scenarios from their members. “Our Chamber helps promote job postings for our members through our social media and our e-newsletters,” says Tessa Roberts, Chamber President.
“Along with similar supports of other chambers, we also offer training sessions in Human Resources to help with answering questions from start-ups and existing businesses. We are open to ideas as we continue to strive to provide better support and services to our members.”
Despite the challenges, it’s worth noting that chambers are convinced that with the right efforts it can help turn things around. I hear the same kind of determination and commitment from representatives in education, the business community, support organizations, and government.
Looking at the underlying challenges of our staff shortage, and at the many resources and people dedicated to finding solutions, I can’t help but feel that we can turn this into an opportunity to continue to create and build a stronger labour force on PEI.