Pushing trades could unlock Sarnia-Lambton’s potential

November 23, 2018 – Louis Pin, The Sarnia Observer

Sarnia’s workforce watchdog’s annual report highlights some troubling trends in the region — and important areas of need for an aging region flush with employment opportunities.

In brief: there are fewer people working in Sarnia, and quite a few are nearing retirement.

According to the Sarnia-Lambton Workforce Development Board, nearly 6,500 fewer people were employed in 2016 than were employed in 2006. That drop-off, from 63,000 to 56,500, was mostly the result of older people retiring and younger people leaving home.

“We are really great at keeping people once they get here. What we’re really not good at is recruiting them here,” Shauna Carr, executive director with the development board, said. “They need to go out and get a broader world perspective . . . we need to really look at strategies to bring those working-age folks back here.”

Between 2011 and 2016, young and working age adults — between 18 and 44 — decreased by roughly 2,200 people, leading to a net loss of more than 1,200 workers overall.

The other issue: Sarnia-Lambton’s biggest gain was among those 45 and older, those soonest to retire.

Overall, it paints a clear picture.

“We need to give them things to come back to,” Carr said.

Much of that starts with employment opportunities in Sarnia-Lambton. While the region boasts no major university, unlike nearby London or Windsor, Lambton College is a major draw for the region.

“The primary selling point for the area is our educated workforce,” Stephen Thompson chief executive officer with the Sarnia-Lambton Economic Partnership, said. “There are a lot of positive things going on with the college, with other training programs.”

Sarnia differs greatly from Ontario on two counts. There are more skilled trade positions in Sarnia, positions for which young people are increasingly unlikely to apply. Related: only 16 per cent of Sarnia’s workforce has a university degree, exactly half the Ontario average (32 per cent).

Changing the conversation about trade opportunities could make Sarnia-Lambton a destination spot for young people seeking employment in skilled trades.

“It used to be if you couldn’t go to university, you couldn’t go into college, you would go into the trades,” Carr said. “That’s the wrong narrative. It’s not the case. If you have familiarity in mathematics, working with your hands, in creating amazing things . . . the trades is for you. It’s an amazing career opportunity that pays really well.”

Electricians, steamfitters, car technicians, and hairstylists are the most common trade positions available in the region, according to the development board’s report.

There could be another major opportunity in Sarnia-Lambton’s future. Notably, only one in every three businesses regionally has an employee on staff. In other words, of 12,000 businesses, roughly 8,000 are entrepreneur-run companies.

It is therefore a priority to give those single-person businesses the information and the opportunity to grow, Carr said, with organizations like the Sarnia-Lambton Business Development Corporation able to offer resources and advice.

lpin@postmedia.com

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