Education or bust

June 13, 2016 - The first in a series of papers Northern Policy Institute has commissioned in partnership with all six northern workforce planning boards outlines some serious challenges in the Timiskaming District. The authors conclude that, to borrow a phrase, absent significant improvements in rural education outcomes, the region is facing “a future of people without jobs and jobs without people”.

Recent technological change and the emergence of the knowledge economy will continue to increase the number of jobs that require post-secondary credentials to roughly 77.1 percent of all jobs by 2030. The Timiskaming region is significantly below these levels.

The “human capital composition”, or the level of skills and education that the working-age population has, in Timiskaming District is lower than regional, provincial and national levels. Worse, it is projected to continue declining if educational attainment remain at their current levels.

As in many areas of Northern Ontario, one of the keys to avoiding this bleak outlook is the Aboriginal population in the region. The authors project that between 2013 and 2041 the Aboriginal population in Timiskaming District will increase by 26%, while the total population will decline by 7%. In that same period, the Aboriginal labour force will increase by 10%, while the total labour force will decline by 32%.

However, the Aboriginal population has lower levels of educational achievement than the rest of the population. In fact, the entire population in Timiskaming District is under educated compared to Ontario and to Canada. Only 54% of the labour force in this district have post-secondary credentials. That is ten points lower than the percentage holding those qualifications elsewhere in Canada. The Aboriginal population lags another eight points below that, with only 46% of this group having post-secondary qualifications.

The report does highlight some good news in the region. Despite the population wide challenges, employment in Timiskaming’s mining, oil and gas extraction industries nearly doubled from 555 in 2001 to 1,095 in 2011 (the latest data available). The region enjoys significant natural resources, good agricultural opportunities, and solid access to the large North American market. Timiskaming’s long-term prosperity and growth depend on its ability to utilise and refocus existing economic resources to stimulate and support entrepreneurship and economic diversification.

Additionally, immigrants, especially male immigrants, have shown strong labour market performance in Timiskaming. They have higher participation and employment rates than immigrant men in the Northeast as a whole, as well as lower unemployment rates.  This is also true when compared to the total male population in both Timiskaming District and the Northeast as a whole. This confirms the value for Timiskaming District of focusing on immigration strategies.

The importance of immigration in tandem with enhanced education cannot be overstated. Timiskaming’s population is down by 19% due to out-migration, low rates of immigration and low fertility rates. Out-migration since 2002 saw over 1,500 people leave the region. Looking at international immigrants alone, roughly 200 arrived in the region since 2002 but the net international migration is very close to 0. This means almost 200 international immigrants left the area in those same years.

Adding to this perfect storm, fertility rates in the Northeast (1.60) are lower than the replacement rate (2.1) and rising life expectancy makes the balance between working and non-working people even worse. Individuals under the age of 20 declined from 30 percent of the total population in 1991 to 21 percent in 2011, while the share of seniors rose from 10 percent in 1991 to 19 percent in 2011.

As a result, the total dependency ratio — the number of mouths to feed relative to the number of working-age persons — is above the provincial average and expected to get worse. Reversing this trend will require a mix of solutions: in-migration (from other parts of Ontario), immigration (from outside the province) and youth retention strategies (as well as strategies to support larger families)

This paper is the first in a series looking at labour market conditions in all eleven northern districts. No doubt we will all have work ahead of us, and strengths to build from.

Charles Cirtwill is President and CEO of Northern Policy Institute. First published in Northern Ontario Business, June 2016.

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