Fear not, we have jobs… for now

Manitoba boasts steady economy, job growth

Manitoba is still the place to find work while other provinces are floundering, a recent report suggests.

According to a Statistics Canada report, the province’s job growth in the past year is second in the country, at 1.7 per cent, one of only three provinces with employment growth higher than the national average.

“We’re not immune to the ups and downs, but our movement up and our movement down is not as pronounced as with other provinces,” Fletcher Baragar, professor of economics at the University of Manitoba, said of the province.

The oil and gas boom in the west is ending and manufacturing in Canada’s east is also suffering, especially in the auto industry. Meanwhile, Manitoba’s more diversified economy has more legs to stand on, Baragar said.

While we depend on manufacturing to some extent, we also have a strong agricultural sector, he said.

And while employment in Canada’s construction industry is not on the decline, Baragar said Manitoba is ahead of the game in that area as well.

“It’s slowing down for people elsewhere,” said John Pinkerton, an apprentice interior systems mechanic for QSI Interiors Ltd.

“There is an economic shift for sure,” he said. “It’s on everybody’s mind… especially the trades.”

While Manitoba has always feared a workforce drainage to richer western provinces, we may now see the reverse, predicted Baragar. Strong demand for construction workers in this province may pull people back in.

Though this may mean more competition for tradespeople like Pinkerton, he is not particularly worried.

“Being competitive makes you that much better at your job,” he said.

Pinkerton feels that with his high level of training, combined with the steady Winnipeg construction market, things are looking good for the future.

“You can’t fake what somebody in my trade knows,” he said. “If you’re good at what you do, you’ll always have a job.”

But Laurell Ritchie, national representative for the Canadian Auto Workers Union, has already noticed tell-tale signs that employment woes will soon hit Manitobans.

People have begun calling her office asking about work-sharing programs, a resort taken in hard financial times in which employees choose to work a four-day week, collecting Employment Insurance for the fifth day.

For the first time in years, these calls are even coming in from Manitoba, she said.

“It’s usually an early warning of problems to come,” Ritchie said. “A weak labour market like this is never a good market to be bargaining in.”

But Baragar is confident our province will break even when it comes to the economic crunch.

“Manitoba is sort of rolling with the punches,” he said. “Relatively speaking, I don’t think Manitoba’s going to feel it as badly as anywhere else in Canada.”

Published in Volume 63, Number 17 of The Uniter (January 22, 2009)

Related Reads