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Dip in numbers renews call for more immigrants

The flag of Nova Scotia, flying in Amherst, No...
The flag of Nova Scotia, flying in Amherst, Nova Scotia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nova Scotia’s population appears to have hit a wall, with the number of people calling the province home lower in the first quarter of this year compared with the same time in 2011.
The latest figures from Statistics Canada show that Nova Scotia’s population fell slightly to 945,532 in the first three months of this year, compared with 945,834 in 2011.
Although it is not a steep decline, the stagnant numbers are enough to raise concern in a province facing a shortage of skilled workers.
“If we’re facing an aging population and a shortage of trained workers, then we need to look to immigration,” Port Hawkesbury Mayor Billy Joe MacLean said Wednesday.
“This country was built by immigrants, and they’ll continue to play a role in the future.”
Federal Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said in Halifax this week that Nova Scotia should retrain unemployed workers in the province to meet the province’s labour needs.
“With 42,000 Nova Scotians looking for work, the provincial government is already calling for the federal government to allow foreign workers to come to Canada to perform work on the ships,” Finley said during a visit to Irving Shipbuilding Inc.
She said the province should look to its unemployment line to fill positions.
While MacLean said he supports retraining jobless Nova Scotians, he said immigration must play a bigger role than Finley suggests.
Given the stagnant population figures and the urgent need for more skilled workers, especially in shipbuilding, it is unrealistic to suggest immigration won’t play a critical role in the province’s future workforce, MacLean said.
“For a lot of these shipbuilding jobs, you can’t just take a guy off the street and train him in a couple years. A lot of these jobs take tremendous training and experience.
“It’s a very sophisticated industry with people who have training far above and beyond what you would get at a vocational school in a year or two.”
While MacLean said he hopes as many locals as possible will find work in the shipyard, he said the reality is some expertise may have to be imported.
Demand for skilled workers in Nova Scotia is expected to outstrip supply by 2015.
The province launched an immigration strategy last year with a goal of attracting 7,200 people a year by 2020. There were 2,138 immigrants to the province in 2011, according to provincial Office of Immigration figures.
But labour market estimates point to a shortfall of up to 8,000 workers in the province by 2014-15, as the federal shipbuilding contract at the Halifax Shipyard and other projects boost job numbers.
But one of the issues facing Nova Scotia is a cap on the provincial nominee program, now set at 500, a paltry number compared with Manitoba’s 5,000 nominations.
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