Hire local before recruiting foreign temps, economist advises Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan should stop using temporary foreign workers to deal with a labour shortage, according to an economist at the University of Calgary.

Economist also advises careful planning for large scale projects like a football stadium

University of Calgary economist Herb Emery says Saskatchewan needs to carefully plan for its labour needs. (Stefani Langenegger/CBC)

Saskatchewan should stop using temporary foreign workers to deal with a labour shortage, according to an economist at the University of Calgary.

According to Herb Emery, using temporary workers tends to drive down wages which only makes it harder, in the long run, to attract local people to such jobs.

Emery commented specifically on bringing foreign workers to fill jobs at a coffee shop, such as Tim Hortons.

He said increasing wages would send a signal to the local job market, which would respond.

"So maybe $15 isn't enough, you have to go to $16 and maybe your coffee goes from $1.60 to $1.80," Emery said. "These are things that the franchisee won't like, but the labour market will adjust."

Emery said it makes more sense to hire local people, or to recruit permanent — not temporary — immigrants.


Emery also criticized undertaking large scale projects, such as a  football stadiums and hospitals, during an economic boom.

"It makes no sense, in a lot of ways, to try and build when the private sector is bidding up wages so high," Emery said. "You're going to have these huge cost overruns on every project."

Emery said large scale projects could be used to create jobs, when there is a slow down.

He said the economy always goes in cycles.

"You should actually be building in times when the labour market is slack because your labour costs are lower," Emery said. "From an economic consideration, I don't know why a government wants to build a highway when wages are through the roof."

60,000 workers needed soon, province says

In the last decade Saskatchewan has experienced remarkably strong growth in labour demand which is forecast to continue to 2020 if the province can find enough workers, the report says.

The provincial government has said at least 60,000 more workers will be needed in the next seven years.

Premier Brad Wall and other provincial officials have gone overseas, most notably to Ireland, to find workers willing to move to Saskatchewan.

But in addition to recruiting labour from outside the province, more effort could be made to entice a large pool of underemployed males between 15 and 24 into post-secondary trades training, the report suggests. Emery says the province could also look to Ontario for workers.

"One of the puzzles that I've raised is, is there some kind of bias in Ontario about the West?" he asked.

"I find it very strange that you have to recruit from Ireland and Scotland and not from southern Ontario and Thunder Bay, which have lots of available labour right now and lots of skilled trades."


With files from CBC's Stefani Langenegger and The Canadian Press