Demography, immigration and labour market transformation: threats or opportunities?
On May 29-30, 2019, ASDEQ (Association des économistes québécois) held its annual conference in Quebec City. This year’s theme of demography, immigration and labour market transformation dovetails with our expertise and exploration of the future of work.
During the two-day conference, I gathered a few insights on labour market information and our work at the LMIC that I wanted to share.
Immigration and growth: the wrong measure?
The conference got off to a strong start with an address by Sir Paul Collier, who urged us to stop using GDP growth as a justification for international immigration. While immigration increases the supply of labour and therefore production, we should be focusing instead on the impact of immigration on well-being, which as good economists, we can measure via per capita income (or individual average wealth) and the health of our public finances (or our ability to pay for our social and health systems). In the two panel discussions, Pierre-Carl Michaud and Mia Homsy agreed that it is not always an increase in thresholds but rather a careful selection of immigrants and their rapid integration into the labour market that can improve the situation.
More information, please
However, – and therein lies the rub – we need more information to understand what works and what does not in terms of integration. For example, after collecting a considerable volume of information on newcomers prior to their arrival in Canada, few data are available to subsequently track their labour market outcomes. There is the Longitudinal Immigration Database (IMDB), but its access is limited for researchers.
BINAM’s Marie-Christine Ladouceur-Girard (Bureau for the integration of newcomers to Montreal) and National Bank’s Matthieu Arseneau lamented the lack of local data at the municipal level needed for more effective labour market monitoring and to inform the mechanisms for program assessment.
Shortage versus scarcity
Our typology at LMIC for talking about labour shortages, skills shortages and skills mismatches has been adopted notably by Audrey Murray of the Commission des partenaires du marché du travail (CPMT). However, the invited employers suggested highlighting a slight difference: while there is a real labour shortage for some jobs, – there are simply no applicants – others are faced with labour scarcity. There is no lack of candidates, but the competition for recruiting these talents is such that employers have to use new approaches and incentives to attract them.
Tell me a story
Mr. Collier also encouraged us to move away from the greedy and rational homo economicus to focus on the role of narrative in career decision making. On the complex issue of the regionalization of immigration, he noted that the facts alone cannot prompt a newcomer to settle beyond the traditional destinations of Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. This information needs to be contextualized and adapted to take on preconceived notions and help workers imagine a life outside the major metropolitan areas.
Ask a friend
Furthermore, newcomers arriving in Canada have a limited knowledge of the labour market and tend to rely primarily on the information provided by their personal networks. In fact, our public opinion survey shows that friends and family are the preferred source of labour market information for more than 45 percent of newcomers. When that network is homogeneous, consisting mostly of other recent immigrants living in major urban centres, it is difficult to showcase the advantages of settling in rural communities.
Emna Braham is a Senior Economist with LMIC. She is currently working to assess the state of labour market information in Canada and conducting forward-looking research in collaboration with stakeholders.
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