Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. to lose 24,000 jobs over next three years

The province's Labour Market Outlook for 2025 highlights the expectation that some 64,000 job openings will occur during the next decade. The steep plunge in the number of workers over the next three years, however, is less celebrated in the report.

Blow will be softened by lack of new entrants, high attrition rate as workers retire

Construction of the Hebron oil platform at Bull Arm is ongoing. A year ago, more than 5,500 people in this province were working on the project. (CBC)

The recent release of the provincial government's Labour Market Outlook for 2025 highlights the expectation that some 64,000 job openings will occur during the next decade.

The rosy outlook is attributed to the increasing number of retiring workers as the province's population continues to age, and a dwindling number of new entrants into the workforce.

But what's less celebrated in the report is the steep plunge in the number of workers in Newfoundland and Labrador over the next three years.

That figure stood at roughly 292,000 last year. But by 2018, it's expected to tumble to just under 268,000.

That's a drop of more than 24,000, or about eight per cent.

That's equivalent to the entire population of the City of Mount Pearl.

A winding down of major projects

The sharp drop in the workforce is not unexpected, and coincides with the winding down of major construction projects such as the Hebron gravity based structure, the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project, and Vale's nickel processing plant in Long Harbour.

A severe downturn in the iron ore industry, including the loss of nearly 500 direct jobs following the 2014 closure of Wabush Mines, is also a factor.

The report emphasizes the point that employment levels in 2015 remain high when compared to the province's historic employment levels.

Development of these major projects has been a major source of economic and employment growth in recent years. But a significant decline is on the horizon, according to the report, and those working in the construction trades will feel the biggest impact, at least in the near term.
Workers are pictured moving rebar at the construction site of the hydroelectric facility at Muskrat Falls in this July photo. According to Nalcor, the number of construction jobs on the project will peak in 2015, at more than 3,200, and drop to under 600 by 2017. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

The number of carpenters and cabinet makers employed in the province, for example, is expected to decline from nearly 5,500 in 2014 to just over 4,000 by 2018.

And those who work in "metal forming, shaping and erecting trades" will also feel the pinch. Their numbers are expected to shrink from more than 5,600 to just under 4,300.

Similar reductions are expected in, among others, the electrical, masonry and plastering, and labourers' trades.

This comes after an extensive push to increase the number of people working in the skilled trades.

A shift in the labour market

The decline in the number of construction jobs, meanwhile, coincides with a significant shift in the labour market, as the demand continues to grow for workers in the sales and service industry.

Of the 64,000 job openings projected over the next decade, nearly one-third of them will be for jobs such as childcare and home support workers, and those in the retail industry.

It's a reflection of the province's aging population.

According to Statistics Canada, the percentage of Newfoundland and Labrador's population ages 65-and-over will increase by more than 42 per cent within the next decade.

However, the number of people between the ages of 15 and 64, the demographic from which the labour force is drawn, will decline by more than nine per cent.

This shift is also notable on another front: income levels.

Jobs in the sales and service industry typically pay less than those in the construction trades, which reinforce what some economists predict will be a decline in the standard of living in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"We've become entitled in a sense to a certain level of expenditure, a certain level of services, a certain quality of a standard of living," Wade Locke said in an interview with CBC News Monday. 

"That may have to change."

A rebound expected later in the decade

The report projects that about half the jobs lost in the next few years will be replaced later in the decade when other major projects are expected to begin development and more service sector jobs related to the province's aging population will open up.

But labour supply will become a growing issue, with far more people leaving the workforce than entering.

It is estimated that for every 100 new entrants into the labour supply, about 125 are leaving, and this gap is expected to widen.

The provincial government is hoping its much-hyped population strategy, including immigration into the province, will help balance supply and demand.

But some employers may be challenged to fill positions locally, the report stated.


Terry Roberts is a journalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.


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