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The Town of Saugeen Shores has been labeled as the fastest growing community in Bruce County. Statistics Canada reported an 8.3% population growth from 2011 to 2016; and in 2018 the community was ranked 14th on for the top 25 places to live in Canada. As positive as this may sound to some, Saugeen Shores Council and local residents share concerns surrounding a skewed growth within the labour market, cultivating inequality alongside the prosperity.

In the January 11 Committee of Whole meeting, a report on the labour challenges within Saugeen Shores was presented to Mayor and Council by Economic Development Officer Heather Hyde. The report was prepared by University of Guelph PhD candidate Ashleigh Weeden and funded by Bruce Power, Mitacs and the University of Guelph.

Weeden conducted interviews with employers, entrepreneurs, employment seeking individuals, and existing employees within Saugeen Shores. Through these interviews she strove to collect qualitative data to build relevant recommendations unique to the Town of Saugeen Shores. The report identified several existing challenges from different perspectives in the labour market. The findings showed employers' struggle with a competitive employment market, inadequate local amenities, the immigration of local youth to more urban communities, and inconsistent support from networks, institutions, and organizations toward local business sectors.

Those who are seeking employment or are currently employed within the area revealed frustrations with finding affordable housing and childcare, transparency of employment opportunities, commuters displacing those who desire to live and work within the community and no central hub for current job opportunities in Saugeen Shores. From the results, Weeden interpreted “a perceived lack of well-paying, secure positions outside the nuclear energy sector, a perceived inability for ‘outsiders’ or people without established social and professional networks in the area to access employment opportunities, and a deepening divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ in the local economy."

Weeden offered suggestions to improve the existing and developing issues within the local labour market with economic diversification at the top of the list. Investment in attainable housing, childcare, physical and social infrastructure was also recommended. Weeden advised that future economic and community development strategies should involve individuals at different stages of the career spectrum as well as multiple business sectors.

Other ideas to help address individuals seeking employment included a match-making system to connect spousal hirings or newcomers to job sharing opportunities; a ‘welcome wagon’ approach to help new entrants to the local labour force live and invest within the community; and creating a localized job portal and improving awareness in youth of alternate career choices through educational partners. Weeden noted the existing networks within Saugeen Shores should be utilized to implement these strategies.

“Addressing the challenges in labour force dynamics requires addressing the entire suite of socio-economic challenges arising in Saugeen Shores as it experiences both the benefits and challenges of growth. If the challenges that uneven growth produces - such as access to a broad range of employment opportunities, affordable housing and childcare, social support networks, and other quality of life needs - are not acknowledged and transparently addressed, they stand to alienate community members and undo any benefits of economic growth,” cautioned Weeden.

Councillor Cheryl Grace commended the individuals who were involved with creating what she called a complex and in-depth look at the labour issues within Saugeen Shores and valued the recommendations put forth. Grace spoke to the report’s mention of the town’s tensions between their past and future and expanded “... trying to balance the protection of our cultural and environmental heritage while still providing room for growth."

Councillor Grace endorsed Weeden’s recommendation for educational partners to collaborate and encourage different career pathways to youth. “Including succession planning initiatives with local businesses,” quoted Grace. “I thought that was fantastic. I know that’s some of the things we hear with some of our long treasured local businesses closing. This makes a lot of sense, I think, to try and preserve those local businesses, those longstanding businesses which many people associate with our town’s character."

Mayor Luke Charbonneau emphasized the importance of a focused job-portal to help, not only people in the area to know where to search and find opportunities, but also to fill gaps in the labour force that he perceives to be a nation-wide problem that cannot be resolved solely by local recruitment. “You can’t invent new people by doing those things, it’s just a demographic crunch where we have fewer people available to fill these positions,” declared Charbonneau.

“We will need to do other things and we’ll need the help of the federal government, primarily to do those things," he stated, using immigration as an example. "We need immigrants, we need a lot of them and we need them to come here," said Charbonneau, adding that he believed the job-portal would help to identify where these gaps exist in the labour shortage, positions that cannot be filled locally, and would help them when requesting government assistance.

The full report can be viewed here: