The results of the latest labour market study from Workforce Planning for Sudbury and Manitoulin deliver a clear and urgent message, our Island workforce is aging fast and there is nothing on the horizon to indicate that the workforce will get younger any time soon.
Several agencies, including the now-defunct Manitoulin Chamber of Commerce, and LAMBAC have been urging local businesses to institute legacy plans for several years as business owners are also aging out in alarming numbers. But a rapidly greying labour force from which to draw on adds another mountain to the range of challenges to legacy planning.
The invisible hand of the market may erode those barriers, but counting on that solution is not likely to prove as efficacious as needed, particularly in the short term.
On the bright side of the equation, there are a host of government programs (mostly instigated at the federal level, but harnessing provincial and private investment as well) aimed at meeting those challenges by solving a few others, notably the tendency of new immigration to settle in the big four urban centres and the need for timely and relevant educational opportunities—but there are also local strengths to build on when it comes to harnessing available resources to fill the labour gaps.
The Ontario Growth Plan famously pointed out that over the coming decades 25 percent of the Northern workforce will be coming from First Nations communities and educational institutes such as Kenjgewin Teg Educational Institute, Contact North and Cambrian College are making tremendous strides in the creation of a skilled workforce from which Island businesses can draw upon.
But more needs to be done. It is past time that key organizations such as the aforementioned educational institutes, government funding agencies such as FedNor and NOHFC, along with our local Community Futures Development Corporations, LAMBAC and Waubetek, come together with local business leaders and potential entrepreneurs to formulate a plan to build a stronger and more complete workforce as the incumbents move on into retirement.
With a comprehensive approach to the challenges ahead we can chart a better informed course that will allow us to put in place strategies that are tailor made to leverage those of our advantages, and we do have a number of advantages (including a growing Indigenous population), to meet the challenges ahead.
Such a conference should span more than a single day and be spread across a number of months and even years to bring about a maximum efficacy.
This might seem at first blush to be an ambitious or even quixotic undertaking, but where would we be if not for the ambition and ingenuity, and yes even unwillingness to fall under the sway of naysayers and doubt, that is inherent in our Northern heritage. Let us not be victims of circumstance and history. Together we can forge a better future.