Canada’s population is set to increase substantially in the next two decades, and economic growth is likely to follow – particularly in the health care, agriculture and technology sectors.
Experts say much of the expected population growth will be tied to immigration, and those key industries often rely on immigrants or migrants workers to adapt at a pace required to support more demand. An increase in population puts pressure on things like food production and health-care delivery, meaning the worlds of work and life are intertwined.
Here’s how it could play out in the three sectors likely to experience the most growth in a population boom.
The most complex growth sector is Canada’s health-care system, given its current crisis state as a result of the pandemic and front line worker burnout.
Dr. Alika Lafontaine, president of the Canadian Medical Association, says the country is not ready to meet the needs of the current aging population, let alone an increase in it.
“Keeping the status quo can’t be an option,” he adds. “We’re entering an era in health care that will only get worse and the consequences will be catastrophic.”
There are a host of items that need to be addressed to fix the system, but human resources is a significant pain point, as many workers are aging into retirement, Dr. Lafontaine explains. “We do need stabilization within the health-care work force. We need to train more people internally, and ensure that people within the system are supported to do what they do.
“International graduates are another source to stabilize the system,” he says, pointing directly at nursing and the need to streamline the process for nurses from other countries to come to Canada.
Immigrants make up 23 per cent of registered nurses and 35 per cent of nurse aides and related occupations, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
While this sector is growing at a significant rate, it is already showing signs of requiring more of the related talent than Canada currently has at its disposal. The solution is immigration strategies to attract more skilled workers in the field.
According to a recent report from Business Development Canada, “growth in the tech sector is expected to be 5.3 per cent in 2022, and growth for the 2021-24 period is expected to be 22.4 per cent.” The study also states that 55 per cent of tech entrepreneurs are struggling to hire the employees they need.
Immigrants account for 24 per cent of Canada’s work force overall, but account for 39 per cent of computer programmers and 51 per cent of software engineers and designers, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
Earlier this year, the Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI) issued a report containing several recommendations for attracting and retaining tech talent, including piloting a High-Potential Tech Visa, to give the most in-demand professionals a path to Canada even without a job offer in hand. It suggests implementing a targeted 48-hour visa processing time for the Global Skills Strategy immigration program.
“Instead of chasing foreign investment and measuring success in terms of job creation, our governments must focus on growing the available supply of skilled talent,” reads the report, which estimated that by the end of 2025, employment in the digital economy will reach 2.26 million, roughly 11 per cent of all employment in Canada.
Rising concerns over the availability of food has increased significantly over the past decade, particularly as people increase their consumption of more resource-intensive foods, such as meat and dairy. “Global food production must increase by 70 per cent by 2050 to keep pace with increasing demand,” according to the Canadian International Development Agency’s food security strategy.
But part of keeping that pace, explains Lori Wilkinson, a Canada Research Chair in Migration Futures and a professor of sociology at the University of Manitoba, is increasing the amount of migrant workers that are coming to Canada.
“We depend so much on the seasonal agriculture workers program and other programs to help us plant, care, harvest and make our produce into products,” Prof. Wilkinson says. “That’s what I think about, in terms of migration, when I think of agriculture.”
The challenge is that farming occurs, for the most part, in rural Canada, while the majority of migrants head for urban centres, as those areas are more likely to provide services required by new Canadians.
While there have been efforts made by many rural areas to make themselves more attractive to newcomers, Prof. Wilkinson says this is critical to many businesses, including those in food production.
“Smaller communities don’t often have the language courses or the settlement services needed to successfully integrate people,” she says. “They’re going to have trouble attracting people and for those that have brought in refugees, for instance, they’re going to have a hard time keeping them because they don’t have the appropriate services …”