Consulting while Rome burns

An article today about the NB consultations on the labour market:

The Government of New Brunswick will bring together various stakeholders to build a province-wide strategy to help address the labour market imbalances. “Together we will develop and implement an action plan containing solutions to issues in key areas of mutual concern with respect to the labour market,” said Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Ed Doherty. The process, which will include a combination of Internet-based and face-to-face meetings, will be facilitated by Don Lenihan, provincial advisor on public engagement, in collaboration with other departmental officials from the Labour Market Analysis Branch.

Participants will be able to access an online forum early next week to discuss and help find solutions to several key issues, such as skills and skills shortages, reducing labour market information gaps, planning for the human resource needs of the future, identifying and targeting barriers to work, and the importance of raising awareness of our changing labour force, culture and values.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I just talked to someone that has a husband in Alberta and his company is coming back to recruit in New Brunswick. Last year they recruited over 300 from NB and PEI and have set similar targets for this year.

Changing labour force, culture and values? What is that? Sounds like a bunch of mandarins advised by a bunch of social scientists.

Excuse my cynicism, but the Lord government ‘consulted’ to death on red tape, forestry, health care, education, research, yadda yadda yadda. And that worked out for us.

Eventually, someone is going to have to get busy. Here’s my ‘input’:

We need high paying jobs. Go out and find some. Look to Nova Scotia’s attracting of RIM and financial services back offices (all jobs $60K to start and up). Then put an immigration plan in place to go get the people to work in this jobs (and align education).

Are we short of tradespersons? Ramp up NBCC training – but target foreign workers – I know a bunch of folks who immigrated here via the NBCC – came for training – stayed for the weather (ouch).

But for the folks that are whining because they cant’ find workers at 8 bucks/hour anymore – that’s a deeper, more structural problem. You can study this until your ears fall off but ultimately, McGuire is right – they are going to have to pay more. Even if you attract immigrants – they will leave and find higher paying jobs elsewhere in Canada – this happened in PEI and the farmers were demanding that the Feds enact legislation to force foreign workers to stay put.

The days of New Brunswick’s competitive advantage being very low wages are over. When manufacturers were paying $8/hour and had 60 cent dollars (US), low wages were a major advantage. Now, these guys are going to have to pay a lot more, and by the way provide benefits and they are at 95 cent dollars. Competitive advantage is going to have to be more about doing things better and more efficiently.

Don’t get me wrong, it should still be cheaper to do business here – because the cost of living is lower – but 5%, 10% maybe – but not 50%.

So, study, consult, online forums, sensitize people to our changing values – what does that mean?

At the end of the day, we need to get the economy primed and moving in the right direction and – as in the case in Alberta, Ontario, BC, etc. – people will come. We may have to do some people attraction stuff. We may need to be better at immigration. But we need to be better at economic development first.