Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia municipalities facing staffing shortages, survey suggests

A new survey suggests municipalities across the province are having trouble recruiting and retaining employees.

Challenges set to worsen as older workforce retires in coming years

At least half of the 800 people employed by the CBRM will reach retirement age within the next couple years, says deputy administrative officer John MacKinnon. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

A new survey suggests municipalities across Nova Scotia are having trouble recruiting and retaining employees.

And the province's second-largest — the Cape Breton Regional Municipality — is no exception.

"We're finding it right across the board, from a janitor or custodian ... to chartered certified accountants ... [and] engineers. It just goes on," said John MacKinnon, deputy chief administrative officer for the CBRM.

The problem is poised to worsen as baby boomers exit the workforce, said MacKinnon.

"Within the next couple of years, at least half of our 800 employees will be ready to retire," he told CBC's Information Morning Cape Breton on Thursday.

MacKinnon is also president of the Nova Scotia Association of Municipal Administrators, which recently surveyed its members about their staffing challenges.

Affordable housing cited as barrier

He said 35 out of the province's 49 municipalities have responded so far, and of those, the vast majority are facing the same problems as the CBRM.

There appears to be a combination of factors contributing to the staffing challenges. Key among them is the aging workforce, said MacKinnon.

Forty per cent of the survey responses cited a lack of affordable housing as a barrier to recruitment, and 70 per cent said there are simply a lack of qualified candidates.

That's especially true for positions that require special training and certification, such as building inspectors, heavy duty mechanics and water utility operators.

"Those that require this specialized education and training, we're having a heck of a time," said MacKinnon.

"And what is happening within the province is that municipalities are having to be creative, and in some cases we see that they're sharing building officials."

John MacKinnon, CBRM's deputy chief administrative officer, says the municipality plans to host a job exhibition in June. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

The pandemic has also contributed to the problem in that some training and certification programs aren't currently being offered.

Early on in the pandemic, cleaning staff became in high demand, making it hard for municipalities to retain custodians.

MacKinnon acknowledges that paying competitive wages could be part of the solution.

He said municipality's also need to do a better job helping people understand what opportunities there are within municipal government, including policing, firefighting, snow clearing and administration. 

To that end, the CBRM is planning to hold a job exhibition in June, where each of the municipality's departments can advertise the opportunities they have coming up, and what training applicants will require.

"We have jobs for everybody," said MacKinnon. "And I think it's important that we start highlighting municipal government as a good place to work."

In the meantime, both the CBRM and the Nova Scotia Association of Municipal Administrators are reaching out to training schools, like Nova Scotia Community College, to see how they can help to bridge the skills gap.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Holly Conners is a reporter and current affairs producer who has been with CBC Cape Breton since 1998. Contact her at holly.conners@cbc.ca.

With files from Information Morning Cape Breton

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