In my last article we looked at the economic development in the Central and Southwestern Region, and now I would like to talk about the next largest barrier to growth in our Turtle Mountain Region.

Regardless of sector, labour shortages are the constraint that is holding the region back. Be it in manufacturing, the healthcare industry, education system, or hospitality and tourism industries, everyone is facing the reality that our baby boomer generation is retiring in great numbers and these employees are incredibly hard to replace.

We are facing a shortage of labour in almost every community in southcentral and southwestern Manitoba as our population ages and many of our baby boomers are now in their 60s. We are starting to see even our genXers retiring early creating many vacancies in healthcare, teaching, agriculture and at local manufacturing firms. Many of our manufacturers and agricultural businesses are wanting to expand within rural Manitoba, but they are finding a shortage of skilled workers in their communities.

They are looking for welders, engineers, draftsmen, equipment operators, accountants, administrators, and machinists. We will also need more home construction. When business is growing and able to find the workers, that creates a need for more housing. If a successful hire cannot locate something sufficient for them and their family, they might not choose to take the job, and the employer is back at square one.

At one time our farm families provided teachers and healthcare staff for our local communities; but as farms get much larger, they become a “whole family” affair, and they are now looking for employees from the community. An operation like Swanfleet Farms (Seed Potatoes), which produces many of the potato seeds for the potato industry, is a good example. This company is owned by the Jonk Family with three generations running the operation and as many as 50 employees during their growing season. They are always looking for employees as their operation continues to expand.

I had the honour of being appointed to the International Peace Garden in 2018 by the Premier at the time and one of the biggest challenges with the garden is to find seasonal workers for the summer. When I was growing up behind the baby boomers, there weren't many summer jobs available because there were so many young people, and there was huge competition to get a summer job. Now it is different. When I grew up, I had three other siblings in a family and most families had an average of four kids during that era. Now in Canada families are having an average of 1.5 kids, there simply are fewer kids to compete for the large number of positions available. Higher incomes due to dual incomes in most families, have created a higher standard of living meaning our youth are in more sports programs and other activities that compete with their time.

I hear so many comments from my generation that young people don’t want to work these days, but the reality is that there are fewer students to fill the positions that are available.

There are a few solutions to address this shortage of labour in Southcentral and Southwestern Manitoba. The first is to focus on encouraging local youth to get advanced education and training to match local occupations. In the past, we educated our youth for jobs only available in larger centres. They do not come back to rural Manitoba, often because they feel there is no opportunity in their home community to practice the skills they were trained for.

We need to work with our schools to help direct students to get an education for a career they can practice in their communities where they can raise a family and have a good standard of living. There is plenty of opportunity in healthcare, manufacturing, accounting, teaching and so on. The more we fill these jobs the more the opportunities will grow.

One of the hardest businesses to run in rural Manitoba is a restaurant or café. The biggest challenge is finding employees to work during the time the operation is open. When communities depopulate, we see cafes and restaurants closing for good. This then makes the community less attractive to new families. A café or restaurant is where the community comes together to socialize and catch up with neighbours. In communities that have lost their café, some have opened up their centres for morning and afternoon coffee. Other communities such as Darlingford, St. Leon, Pierson, Waskada, Pipestone, Belmont, Mariapolis, Elgin, Medora, and Glenora have created a community business co-op café to address this need.

Growing pressures on the cost of living and the quality of life in large urban communities may also open up opportunities. As young city dwellers learn more about the growing rural economic development, perhaps we can inspire them to move to our small towns and help reverse depopulation. It’s another solution to increase school enrollments and help fill the job vacancies in progressive, growing communities such as Pilot Mound/Crystal City, Killarney, Boissevain, Cartwright, Notre Dame, Ninette, Minto and Manitou.

Doyle Piwniuk is the MLA for Turtle Mountain. His column will be an ongoing feature in Lifestyles to help promote our knowledge and understanding about the amazing things happening in the part of our province.