The labour shortage in the Quebec's rural regions is likely to worsen in the coming years due to a lack of foreign workers, according to a study by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
Each year, small- and medium-sized businesses are short nearly 18,000 immigrants workers.
The shortage impacts all regions, but those that are likely to be most affected are the Montérégie, with a projected deficit of 4,845 workers, the Laurentians, expected to be short 2,840 workers, and Lanaudière, short 2,186.
The Eastern Townships is the least affected rural egion, with a forecast deficit of 261 workers. If nothing changes, there will be a shortage of nearly 90,000 immigrant workers in five years in the regions, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) projects.
The business group made its calculations using estimates from Emploi Québec. The government employment agency estimates that one in five job vacancies will have to be filled by an immigrant.
The problem, according to CFIB Quebec vice-president François Vincent is that, historically, 75 per cent of newcomers remain in the Montreal region.
"When one in five jobs must be filled by immigrants, and there is a fairly large deficit in most regions, meeting the challenge of the labour shortage is even greater," Vincent said.
Small- and medium-sized businesses can expect overtime work, postponed projects and lost sales and contracts, he said.
Mohamed Soulami, general manager of Actions interculturelles, a non-profit that helps immigrants settle in Canada, says he isn't surprised by the results of the study. He thinks even more immigrant workers are needed.
"It has even become vital for many employers in all fields," he said. "Previously it was plastics, rubber, welders, information technology, some specific areas. And we had an unemployment rate that was around 7.8 per cent. Now, everything is reversed."
Provincial government must act, CFIB says
Vincent says there is a clear need for strategies to increase settlement in the regions.
"We clearly need to increase it by 18,000 per year. We have the figures for the regions. It would be strategic for the government to set quantified goals," he said.
He added that the regionalization of immigration has become a priority for business leaders.
To meet the labour needs of small- and medium-sized businesses, he says Quebec must raise immigration thresholds, remove barriers that prevent immigrants from settling in the regions and ensure that newcomers meet the needs of businesses.
Soulami says the government should put more effort into permanent immigration to ensure stability, without sidelining temporary immigration programs.
"There is an inclination on the part of the government to encourage more temporary immigration before permanent immigration," Soulami said. "This translates into more work for employers, who cover the costs."
The needs are even more pressing, given that the current workforce is aging. According to the CFIB, in most regions, workers aged 20 to 29 are outnumbered by those aged 55 to 64.