By Jenn Watt
Published Mar. 13, 2018
There aren’t enough workers for the jobs that exist and the workers who are here don’t always have the training they need.
This isn’t new information, but a recent presentation to Highlands East council by Joanne Vanier, community economic development and committee co-ordinator, made the case clear.
The business retention and expansion report given to council included the insights of 43 employers from the municipality who gave feedback on what they need and what is lacking.
“Almost half of employers have challenges with labour, rating the ability of qualified workers, stability of the workforce and ability to attract new employees as fair to poor. Hiring challenges were primarily related to recruitment, lack of skills, training and experience. Businesses responded that hiring challenges were specifically related to the community, as opposed to the industry,” she told council.
A high percentage of business owners reported being happy with the area, saying the low land costs in addition to the sense of community made living and working in Highlands East worthwhile.
Yet, the workforce still isn’t meeting the needs of the businesses; throughout the county, the demographics are skewing toward seniors to the detriment of key industries.
Stats Can information from 2011, presented by the Chamber of Commerce in early winter, says the largest demographic group in the county is those between the ages of 45 and 64 (6,225); followed by those 65 and older (4,720).
The two youngest demographics have the smallest populations; there were 1,570 people between 15 and 24 in 2011 and 2,425 between 25 and 44.
The chamber is creating a video to recruit young entrepreneurs to the area.
The committee’s report had plenty of good ideas on how to address the skills gap and attract new business and among them were two crucial investments: transportation and internet.
In Highlands East in particular, cell service and internet connectivity has been a longstanding issue.
Real estate agents report that the presence of high-speed internet is a top request from prospective buyers and businesses would be in even greater need.
And then there’s the geography question. Not that many people live in Highlands East and to bring workers in, having even a rudimentary transit system could do wonders to help match people with skills to businesses with job openings.
Highlands East has endured some disappointment recently – in particular the loss of its bank in Wilberforce – but it also has a lot going for it. A tight-knit community, a beautiful locale, low taxes and a school, library, pharmacy, fire department, EMS base and active residents.
If the investments in infrastructure are made, businesses can flourish.
Some food for thought heading into the provincial election season.