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Prosperity and Growth Strategy for Northern Ontario

What we heard- People

Identify ways to promote skills development as well as attract and retain employees, professional and technical talent and entrepreneurs to Northern Ontario.

Shortage of human resources:

During our engagement, we heard that human resource shortages are negatively impacting business operations and community development. The distance between most Northern Ontario communities and larger markets creates additional barriers to attracting workers to the region. More specifically, stakeholders told us that municipalities and businesses need to have the resources to retain and attract new talent, but that they cannot do this alone. The key to success, they said, is through joint efforts to ensure that residents in the North have access to good postsecondary education, training opportunities and entrepreneurial support.

Attracting talent and entrepreneurs to the region:

Stakeholders were clear on the importance of attracting both talent and entrepreneurs, including their families, to the region. Suggestions included initiatives to better promote the region, both within Canada and abroad, as a great place to live, work and do business. They also reiterated that the presence of proper physical and social infrastructure, including access to broadband, health care, housing, education as well as artistic and cultural amenities, is a precursor to attracting workers and businesses.

Some stakeholders also suggested that incentives, including increased wages, housing or the promise of reasonably priced farm land, to individuals moving to the region should be considered as a recruitment strategy for the north. The incentive model used by the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) to recruit physicians to the region, which includes paid tuition in exchange for years of service in northern communities, was often cited as a successful recruitment example.

On immigration policies, we were told that there is a need to revisit existing regulations and timelines to ensure that a more consistent proportion of immigrants to Canada are encouraged to come to Northern Ontario. Examples of successful immigration programs were provided including the Immigration Portal on the east coast.

Development and retention:

The lack of access to education and training in smaller and rural communities was a common concern raised by stakeholders during the engagement period. Respondents cited the high costs of having residents leave their communities for educational purposes and how this can be detrimental to long term economic growth. Therefore, having access to local training opportunities, either in a physical or virtual classroom setting, could go a long way in helping to retain youth and the working age population. Stakeholders suggested, among other things, that local targeted educational offerings be made available in fields where there are current or future shortages, such as trades. For example, specific initiatives could include providing local training opportunities in specific trade-related fields in Northern communities as well as increased promotion of trades as a viable career option in high schools across the north. Proper implementation would require close collaboration with all education institutions, workforce planning boards and the private sector as well as the presence of appropriate broadband infrastructure.

Promoting entrepreneurship:

Entrepreneurship was raised during the engagement period as an essential element to growth, as well as a necessary business succession tool, given the increasing number of owner/operators planning for retirement. In fact, several stakeholders told us that they are already seeing business closures due to the lack of other options available.

With this is mind, it is not surprising that while there was agreement that entrepreneurship support, such as business planning and access to capital, should be provided to all segments of the population, there was an overwhelming call to start engaging youth in entrepreneurship. The message we heard was loud and clear: attracting and supporting youth, both Indigenous and Non-Indigenous, and developing their entrepreneurial ideas is imperative to growth and prosperity in Northern Ontario. Additional programs, such as Head Start in Business and Francophone Plus, are also valuable to helping young entrepreneurs get started, regardless of the business sector they are in. We also heard of the importance of introducing the concept of entrepreneurship through education programs in elementary and post-secondary schools. Mentorship programs that showcase the potential and value of business ownership could also benefit youth and encourage more of them to stay.

Indigenous participation:

During our engagement sessions, participants stated the need for increased collaboration between relevant government departments and stakeholders to advance the participation of Indigenous peoples in the workforce. Despite the growing Indigenous youth population, the life expectancy and quality of life for many Indigenous Peoples living in Northern Ontario is below the norm. Roundtable participants identified the need for community planning and development that addresses both social and economic challenges together and builds the capacity for leadership, project management, business planning and economic development in the community through mentorship. We also heard some Indigenous leaders speak of working more cooperatively with neighboring communities including possible pilot projects to explore sharing of some services including health care and education.

When it comes to training and education, we heard that all training and education programs should include a segment on the history of Indigenous Peoples in Canada to promote understanding and to provide a baseline for customized training (i.e. life skills) and expectations. In addition, we heard there is an opportunity to retain educated/certified Indigenous members in the community by offering them entrepreneurship training and supports to establish businesses in the community as a career alternative to working for someone else.

"Ensuring the labour force is adequately trained to meet the changing nature of work, as well as ensuring entrepreneurs are aware of the changing nature of employees is key to meeting the demographic shifts and mitigating the transition."

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