• Tue. May 28th, 2024

Labour shortages cost N.S. businesses $1B in missed opportunities in 2022, report says

Nova Scotia businesses missed out on approximately $1 billion worth of potential sales and contracts in 2022 due to labour shortages, according to a new report to be released Wednesday.

Duncan Robertson, senior policy analyst in Nova Scotia with the Canadian Federation for Independent Business, told members of a legislative committee on Tuesday that figure is the highest in Atlantic Canada.

“Labour shortages pose a serious concern for half of our members in Nova Scotia,” he told MLAs.

Although a shortage of workers is a problem for many sectors, Robertson said the construction and manufacturing industries missed out on the most opportunity due to a lack of workers.

Consequences for communities

Those missed opportunities can affect the ability of a business owner to pay down their debt or expand and support their community, said Robertson.

“Sixty-six cents out of every dollar spent at a small business stays local,” he told reporters.

“If there’s not a whole lot of those dollars going in, then it has a rippling effect on the local communities as well.”

There is no easy way to address labour shortages, said Robertson. But greater awareness about existing government programs intended to get more people working in the trades, and more exposure to that option for high school students could make a huge difference, he said.

Since coming to power, the Tory government has introduced a tax credit for people younger than 30 who enter the trades. More recently, the government made changes to the apprenticeship process and took other steps intended to attract and retain more workers.

Efforts to attract more workers

Provincial officials estimate Nova Scotia needs 11,000 new tradespeople by 2030.

The government is turning to immigration to try to cut into that shortfall.

Officials recently attended a construction-specific event in London, England, where they met with people looking to move to Canada. A government spokesperson said 800 contacts were made at the event and 140 “high potential candidates” are being reviewed.

A group of officials from the province, construction industry and potential employers will also be in Toronto later this week for a three-day job fair focused on the construction sector.

“A lot of newcomers attend the fair,” Ava Czapalay, Nova Scotia’s deputy minister of labour, skills and immigration, told reporters.

“In our work preparing to attend the fair we pre-qualified 900 people who are looking for work in the skilled trades and are willing to think about living in Nova Scotia and working here.”

A call for a tax review

Robertson said many businesses are paying more than minimum wage in an effort to attract and retain workers, although some struggle to afford to pay more than $15 an hour. The provincial government could help by addressing the heavy tax burden people face in the province, he said.

Brandon Ellis, senior manager of policy for the Atlantic Chamber of Commerce, made a similar point during the meeting.

Ellis is calling on the province to do a review of its tax system. The former Liberal government commissioned such a report in 2014, but did not act on it. Ellis said it’s time for a fresh look “from scratch.”

“The landscape of the world has changed,” he told reporters.

“The cost of doing business has significantly increased, the cost of living has significantly increased.”

An increasing number of chamber members cite a lack of housing as a barrier to hiring staff, said Ellis. He called on the government to produce “a concrete” plan to deal with the issue. The provincial government’s recently released housing strategy does not go far enough, he said.

“I don’t think that they come close to the amount of houses that they need to increase and the level of supply to adequately support the labour market.”

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