Small businesses can't find workers, says group calling for new immigrant plan

Businesses owners across the province are experiencing a labour shortage, forcing them to take on more work themselves and drop plans to expand, according to a survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

Canadian Federation of Independent Business finds 6,000 jobs need filling in New Brunswick

A small business lobby group says it's getting harder and harder to fill job openings in Atlantic Canada. (Matt York/Associated Press)

Businesses owners across the province are experiencing a labour shortage, forcing them to take on more work themselves and drop plans to expand, according to a survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

In its latest report, the lobby group says more than one in five business owners are considering cancelling planned expansions because they can't find people to work for them.

"That's limiting their growth and forcing them to make some hard choices," said Louis-Philippe Gauthier, the federation's director of provincial affairs for New Brunswick.

"For some it means pushing to a later date or reconsidering investments they could make that would potentially grow their business."

With New Brunswick's aging and shrinking population, Gauthier said finding the right people with the right skills for jobs is  becoming a bigger issue.

John Wishart, CEO of the Greater Moncton Chamber of Commerce, said that in 2007, the working age cohort of people 15 to 65 years old made up 70 per cent of the New Brunswick population. By 2032, that cohort will be down to 57 per cent and the number of people over the age of 65 will have doubled, he said. 

"That demographic tsunami that everyone talks about is coming," Wishart said.

Province needs more people

While there is a need for highly educated workers, Gauthier there's also a need for entry-level workers from outside the country who will take jobs in retail and convenience stores.

"We need more people, not only on the higher skill end but on the lower skill end," Gauthier said.

Temporary worker programs are in place now across the country, but Gauthier said more needs to be done to help smaller businesses in Atlantic Canada.

The reality is those jobs are there and the businesses aren't finding the right people with the right skills to match those jobs.- Louis-Philippe  Gauthier , Canadian Federation of Independent Business

He's pitching the idea of an introduction to Canada visa, which would allow workers to come to Canada and work in a particular region for two years and eventually provide them with a path to citizenship.

"Having policies that focus immigration also on that lower end of the skill spectrum would be something that would be of help to small businesses across Atlantic Canada," he said.

This would allow businesses to generate wealth, revenue payroll and paycheques, so government can get the tax revenue to pay for the services they need.

"Things take time at different government levels," he said. "For us at CFIB, we never give up and we never go away. It'll be something we continue hammering on."

When asked whether immigrant workers would be paid minimum wage, Gauthier said they would be making salaries normally paid for the positions they take and what the businesses can afford to pay.

Wishart applauded the idea of an introduction to Canada visa.

"We are hearing stories of labour shortages, everything from fast food restaurants, call centres up to engineers and accountants," he said.

Small businesses face crisis 

Gauthier said there are about 17,000 open positions across Atlantic Canada and more than 6,000 of those jobs are in New Brunswick.

"The reality is those jobs are there and the businesses aren't finding the right people with the right skills to match those jobs," he said.

Louis-Philippe Gauthier, the group's director of provincial affairs in New Brunswick, says current immigration programs aren't addressing all the needs of small business owners. (CBC)

"It becomes a question of, do we want our businesses to grow? Do we want our business owners working in the business or on the business?"

Traditionally in Atlantic Canada, Wishart said, the problem has always been unemployment. Now the problem "has flipped on its head," and many business owners are struggling to find labour to grow their business.  

To date, a 2018 survey done by the Chamber of Commerce, indicated 40 per cent of members find labour an issue and 54 per cent face a shortage of labour.

"If you're thinking of expanding your business, that's a hard stop right there if you don't have the employees to do it," Whishart said. 

Unemployment rate

New Brunswick's unemployment rate dropped to 7.2 per cent in October, slightly down from 7.9 per cent in September.

The province also lost 1,800 jobs in the same month. This includes 700 full-time jobs and 1,100 part-time jobs in October.

Louis-Philippe Gauthier is director of provincial affairs for New Brunswick for the Canadian Federation of Indepedent Business. John Wishart is the CEO of the Greater Moncton Chamber of Commerce. 12:05

Compared with the rest of Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick sat with Prince Edward Island with the lowest unemployment rate in October, followed by Nova Scotia at 7.7 per cent and Newfoundland and Labrador at 12.7 per cent.

If the problem isn't fixed now, Gauthier expects it to become a crisis down the road.

CBC News has asked the province for an interview and is waiting for a response. 

With files from Information Morning Fredericton, Information Morning Moncton