Where are our new adventures in enterprise?


Down the rabbit hole of unemployment

Down the rabbit hole of unemployment

In coming to grips with what ails the Canadian job market, the nation, the region, our cities and towns have tried it all, only to conclude that the 21st Century is looking less like the 20th and more like the 19th.

A piece in the Saint John Telegraph-Journal yesterday brilliantly evokes the wild west that is Fort McMurray. “Go and spend a week (there) and see what life is like,” a local family lawyer, whose juggling several divorce cases, says. “From what I understand, and what’s described to me by women, it’s Dodge City, circa 1870. There are bars, strip joints, hookers.”

Such are the familiar lures of a boom town hooked on the almighty petro-dollar. In fact, most good jobs in this country are going this way (sans strippers and prostitutes as signing bonuses).   

Forget environmental engineering; think geology and hydrology. If that’s too academically rich for your blood (and if you can drive a stick) consider that an oil sands worker with a high school diploma can earn between $90,000 and $120,000 a year base salary. 

Consider, also, that federal government labour policies explicitly encourage people to work in this sector – to leave their homes in their less promising regions and lasso their own personal moons in Big Sky country. 

Yet, lest we fully become a nation of truckers and wildcatters, a few are issuing one last, possibly quixotic, call for reason in the job market. Weirdly, they are bankers who, one could argue, have the most to gain from unalloyed oil and gas prosperity.

Still, writes Gordon Dixon, chief executive officer of the Royal Bank of Canada and chair of the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, “Diversity and immigration are important parts of Canada’s past, present and future.”

His commentary appeared in yesterday’s edition of the Globe and Mail: “Our diverse population is only an advantage to the extent we are inclusive. Full inclusion means means everyone feels enabled to bring their perspectives, knowledge and experience to the table. Diversity, together with inclusion, plays a central role in driving productivity, innovation and growth.”

And here I thought productivity, innovation and growth had only to do with how much oil you can squeeze from a stone. At least, that’s what I read on the packaging before I drank deeply of the Kool-Aid. 

Not that there aren’t immigrants labouring away in the oil sands. It’s just that there aren’t many opportunities in the new west’s resource industries to demonstrate one’s native proclivities for diversity. Fortunately, we don’t have that particular problem in merry old New Brunswick, where our primary industries (such as they are) are failing both to retain existing residents and attract new ones. 

Last week, Statistics Canada (yes, it’s still alive and kicking after the federal government’s latest round of cutbacks, though just barely) reported that New Brunswick had lost 5,400 jobs (or, at least, 5,400 fewer people were working) in April. That pushed up the overall provincial unemployment rate to 10.5 per cent.

Imagine the entire population of Sackville – home of sweet Mount Allison University, alma mater to my grandfather, father and daughter – suddenly packing up their things an hitting the road en mass like a caravan of Okies from Muskogee. 

Charlie Coffey can imagine it. He’s a guest speaker at this week’s provincial jobs summit. The title of his address is “People Power is the Competitive Advantage: Building a Diverse Workforce in the 21st Century.”

Not surprisingly, perhaps, he’s a former executive vice-president of the Royal Bank who retired after 44 years. Again, he says, coming to grips with what ails us in this region is all about recognizing the importance of diversity.

Let’s not put all our eggs in one industrial basket. Let’s open up our hearts, minds and borders to different perspectives, new entrepreneurial opportunities, new adventures in enterprise.

“Since diversity is an integral part of business success, leveraging diversity has little to do with compliance and legal requirements and more to do with good business – smart business,” Mr. Coffey told the Telegraph-Journal recently. “Sometimes people find it hard to see how diversity and the bottom line are related.”

Of course, that’s only natural when, on any given day, the future of our conjoined economies looks very much like their past.


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