Nova Scotia has to create more jobs before it attracts immigrants, according to Kenneth Rowe, the head of one of the province’s largest and most successful businesses.
Addressing an audience of business leaders and politicians, Mr. Rowe said ”It’s all right bringing immigrants in, but you should get the jobs first. You know, what comes first — the chicken or the egg? In this case we should have jobs for them, otherwise they become a liability.”
Rowe, the England-born executive chairman of IMP Group International Inc., was the keynote speaker at a fundraising breakfast at Pier 21.
Nova Scotia’s workforce needs immigrants, Rowe said, but it’s not all that’s needed.
“We have an ageing and decreasing population so we need a continuing influx of suitable, taxpaying immigrants. But let me give a word of caution as I believe they should only be part of the solution,” he said. “Training our own young Canadians, including immigrants, in skill sets that match job openings available to them in our local industries keeps more of them in Nova Scotia.”
Referring to the Ivany report, an economic development report that recommended tripling the number of people that settle in Nova Scotia annually, Rowe said “Immigration is a very important part of the workforce solution as is stated in the Ivany report. But for large employers, such as IMP, we have to be very careful how we hire them.”
Recalling his own experience, Rowe said that when his company was facing a worker shortage, he approached English-speaking, British-trained apprentices, making 171 employment offers. The company accepted 94 applicants, but only 67 relocated. This was because many people either couldn’t sell their homes in order relocate, couldn’t overcome all the immigration paperwork or didn’t move because of family ties. To top it off, some of the people who did relocate left soon after due to homesickness or loneliness.
Rowe says that as a result, IMP now concentrates on training people in Nova Scotia.
Lena Diab, Nova Scotia’s minister of immigration, agreed that economic growth is critical to the province’s future.
“We feel enhanced immigration is a crucial component in the future success of Nova Scotia and will help us grow the economy,” she said. “Mr. Rowe spoke to the importance of our business community playing a fundamental role in creating the growth that will keep Nova Scotians at home and attract people from around the world to our province.”
Robyn Webb, of the Greater Halifax Partnership, which helps immigrants and international students connect with job opportunities, agrees with Rowe that the province needs jobs for newcomers, but adds there are lots of opportunities in the hidden job market that immigrants might not be aware of.
“Eighty per cent of the jobs are going unadvertised. It’s quite often who you know to even find out about those jobs,” she said.
“There are opportunities for immigrants searching in Halifax and we just need to make those connections for them in the hidden job market.”
During his speech, Rowe also urged the local government to address the problems with public finances. “Apart from stimulating immigration and new jobs, we have a major financial structural problem we must face with some degree of urgency, which is our growing provincial debt of $15 billion,” he said.
Rowe said the interest payments on public debt would be better spent on health care, education and job creation.
“I think it’s time for the three political parties to give their political agendas a rest for awhile and all work together with the private sector to get our economy afloat and growing again.”