What challenges lie in the year ahead?
With news that
Peterborough now leads the country with the highest unemployment rate, hitting 9.5% in December, it’s a good time to take a look at our workforce.
The Workforce Development Board has been busy
analysing our local
population, its employment
situation and what it all means. A recent Labour Market Information report highlights that our region is growing modestly at only 0.5% per year. The biggest
increases are people between 25 to 44 and 65+, with 0 to 14 staying about the same and all others decreasing.
Left alone, we would be in trouble. Comparing 2019 and 2020, deaths outpaced births by 445 people. Immigration and people relocating from other areas of Ontario account for our growth.
We’re also losing people to other provinces. Over that same time, the Workforce Development Board notes our population shrank by 234 people due to
interprovincial migration. According to Statistics Canada, our country hasn’t seen this level of
interprovincial migration in more than 30 years, with Ontario taking the biggest hit. In the second quarter of 2021, nearly 12,000 more people left Ontario for other provinces than moved here. Many of the people leaving are younger, first-time home buyers — the very people our labour market is
desperately in need of.
Additionally, our region is a popular destination for seniors as is evidenced by the continued increase in the 65+ demographic. We typically rank within the top few regions across Canada for what percentage of our population is over 65. The result is that more than 2,300 people are leaving the workforce annually due to retirements.
One of the most
eye-opening findings in the Workforce Development Board report is that more people are currently working than before the pandemic. There were an estimated 65,100 people employed in our region in 2021, up 3,100 from 2019. Despite seniors leading our population growth, workforce
participation is also up with 62.7% of our population participating in the
workforce in 2021,
compared to 60.2% in 2019.
It’s difficult to really figure out what exactly all this means without doing a deeper dive. With further study, there are a few key takeaways:
• Our region needs to be
attractive, both to
immigrants and people in other areas of Ontario. These are the two groups not only driving our growth, but staving off decline. We are relying on people wanting to move here.
• We need to retain the people we have. Though well positioned within
Ontario, we’re losing residents to other provinces. It’s no coincidence that the recent spike in
interprovincial migration coincides with massive growth in the real estate sector, with people flocking to provinces with a more affordable cost of living. The average price of a home in Ontario jumped 47% over the last two years.
• Our workforce is vulnerable. Our demographics continue to skew heavily toward the upper end of the age
brackets. But our seniors are continuing to use their expertise to keep working,
at least part time, well beyond 65. Our region’s employment numbers are lagging, but a mass exodus via retirements or
health-related issues would put a further crunch on our labour demands.
It’s frustrating to see that we have more people
working than before the pandemic yet we’re still dealing with sky-high unemployment. Employment numbers and demographics reports are only a snapshot of a sample group. Monthly employment statistics can vary up and down from month-to-month based largely on sampling, which is why relying on trends is more accurate. The trend is that Peterborough’s
unemployment is high and that’s not a great situation for anyone involved.
Entering into another period of severe business
restrictions will certainly lower demand regarding labour shortage issues, but our problems will return when we pick back up again.
There are short-term
solutions we can work on to improve our situation, but those will only be Band-Aids if we don’t invest heavily
in our long-term needs. Intra-provincial migration is working for us right now, but it’s risky to bet too heavily on one thing. We have some amazing assets and resources, including
post-secondary institutions. We have a
economic development agency, what a single organization can do. It's going to take
cooperation between regional municipalities to create more serviced employment lands. What it really comes down to is a concerted community effort to build the region into what we need to become to be competitive in the long run.