Quebec unveils $3.9B plan to attract 170,000 more workers to offset labour shortage

Quebec is investing an additional $3.9 billion to address the labour shortage in the province in the hopes of requalifying and attracting 170,000 workers in certain priority sectors. 

New scholarships for students studying in essential, strategic sectors

Quebec Premier François Legault announces an operation to obtain more manpower, Tuesday, November 30, 2021 in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Quebec is investing an additional $3.9 billion over the next five years to address the labour shortage in the province in the hopes of requalifying and attracting 170,000 workers in certain priority sectors. 

Premier François Legault unveiled the action plan, dubbed Opération main-d'oeuvre, alongside Labour Minister Jean Boulet and Higher Education Minister Danielle McCann at a news conference Tuesday. 

Nearly 80 measures targeting six areas of activity will be implemented, including an allowance of $475 per week for unemployed people if they take up studies in sectors where there is a shortage of workers, as well as scholarships for students in higher education.

"With the measures we are presenting today, we want to quickly supply more workers to key sectors for Quebec," Legault said.

For essential public services, namely the health and social services sector — including mental health and youth protection, the education sector and the childcare sector — special efforts will be made to try to integrate an additional 60,000 qualified people.

"The measures announced today will make it possible to increase the hiring of personnel in addition to improving the organization of work and working conditions to promote employee retention," the province said in a statement. 

The government has also selected what it considers three strategic sectors — information technology, engineering and construction — where the province hopes to add 110,000 skilled workers.

Legault said he believes implementing these measures is necessary due to the aging population in Quebec, combined with vigorous economic growth.

Scholarship incentives for key fields

The government will also help Quebecers develop their skills by making training more attractive in these areas, notably through financial support and work-study programs.

Legault said his government will be deploying a major incentive scholarship program in higher education, something he said is expected to increase the number of graduates in essential public services and strategic sectors at CEGEP and university levels. 

The targeted professions include analysts, programmers, engineers and engineering technologists, clinical and auxiliary nurses, respiratory therapists, psychologists, social workers, preschool, elementary and secondary school teachers, as well as special education technicians and early childhood educators.

All Quebec students enrolled full time in these priority areas will be eligible for a total of $9,000 in scholarships for a three-year program at the CEGEP level, $15,000 in scholarships for a three-year program at the university level and $20,000 for a four-year program. 

Whether students are at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of their schooling, they will begin to be eligible starting in the fall of 2022.

"More students must be attracted to fields in high demand, in order to ensure a better match between the career choices of young adults and the many opportunities offered by the job market," said Higher Education Minister McCann.

No plan to increase immigration, Legault says 

The announcement comes as corporate pressure mounts on the CAQ government to increase immigration in the province, something Quebec manufacturers have said has a critical impact on labour shortages. 

"It's easy — just double up the people coming in and we'll do most of the work to get the people in. We'll pay for it," said Louis Veilleux, CEO of Metal Bernard in St. Lambert-de-Lauzon, near Lévis.

Quebec manufacturers have said increasing immigration has a critical impact on labour shortages.  (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

But Legault rejected the idea of increasing the number immigrants allowed in Quebec from 50,000 — a number to which his government scaled back up just last month after slashing it by 20 per cent when the CAQ was first elected in 2018. 

"Right now, we receive 50,000 immigrants every year, which is [proportionately] more than United States, France and most of the countries," he said at Tuesday's news conference when asked if he'll scale up immigration in the face of pleas from business leaders. 

"We also have the challenge in Quebec of integration to learn french. We'll always have this challenge, so we think right now, the integration capacity of 50,000 is at maximum." 

But Veilleux, who is also the founder of Groupe Mundial, which brings together several Quebec manufacturing companies specializing in industrial subcontracting, says accepting more foreign workers could help his company, where he is missing 20 team members. 

He says the labour shortage is not just an immediate problem, but one that will affect future growth as well. Without enough workers now, he says companies will hesitate before making any expansion plans.

"The problem is not today, it's further down the road because when companies are having a shortage of people, they stop doing new products, they stop doing new research, they stop searching for new market. There's a lot of things that companies do not do anymore because of shortage," he said.

"In the end, it's going to cost us big time."

with files from CBC's Quebec AM