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Saskatchewan offers $20,000 tuition-reimbursement grant to recent graduates

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by Ian Harvey

Just when you thought the labour shortage in Ontario couldn’t get worse, here comes Saskatchewan dangling a $20,000 carrot to lure back recent graduates.

Just when you thought the labour shortage in Ontario couldn’t get worse, here comes Saskatchewan dangling a $20,000 carrot to lure back recent graduates.

Putting his money where his mouth is, Premier Brad Wall led a delegation of city mayors and his education, employment and labour minister Rob Norris into Toronto last week to shake the trees and entice Saskatchewan-born-and-raised graduates to return home.

“If they come to Saskatchewan for seven years, we’ll pay out 10 per cent a year up to $20,000 so they can pay off their student loans,” says Wall.

“And for those in skilled trades, there are 576 skilled jobs that need filling right now and another 6,900 on the Saskatchewan Construction Association job board.”

He says while his province isn’t immune to the current downturn, it is doing well.

“This time last year, we had 10,000 construction jobs open,” he says. “So we are down but not a lot. We need construction trades across the board, carpenters, welders, heavy equipment operators, everything.”

He’s particularly upbeat about the energy sector, with Saskatchewan the second-biggest oil producer in the country, which is driving much of the demand for ICI construction. The province produces 26 per cent of the world’s uranium.

“We’re also the biggest potash producer in the world,” he says. “And despite the downturn, not one expansion or project has been delayed or cancelled. There’s billions of dollars of work there.”

While potash company shares have tanked along with prices, there’s consensus they will recovery with the economy, Wall says, and that means continued construction.

The Saskatchewan road show, the second to come to Toronto since September, arrived just as a March 2009 Conference Board of Canada outlook report suggests that the province will lead Canada in growth.

The report says $300 million in personal tax reductions and infrastructure investment by the Saskatchewan government will drive growth of 1.6 per cent in 2009, the highest percentage rate among the provinces and well ahead of the 0.5 per cent decrease in GDP estimated for Canada.

Saskatchewan’s expanding labour market and wage growth will also exceed national averages according to the report. Employment is forecast to grow by 8,000 (1.6 per cent) — the largest increase in the country and Saskatchewan stands with Manitoba as the only provinces to see job growth while others shed employment.

Those thinking about moving west won’t be alone.

“The strong economic outlook will continue to attract national and international migration, further stimulating the domestic economy,” the Conference Board forecasts.

Saskatchewan also boast the largest 2008 GDP growth in Canada at 5.4 per cent and a Statistics Canada report in February projected private and public capital investment there to grow 2.3 per cent this year compared with a 6.6 per cent drop across Canada.

Residential construction is set to drop in Saskatchewan, but an eight per cent growth is forecast in construction and machinery for ICI projects.

It’s that kind of growth and demand which also brought Michael Fougere, president of the Saskatchewan Construction Association, to Toronto for his second visit to a national job fair since November.

“There’s a billion and a half dollars this year and a billion last year in public infrastructure investment,” he says. “And the province just gave the municipalities $500 million for shovel-ready projects.”

He said he went full tilt for two days talking to prospective job seekers.

“This time it’s different, though,” he says noting when he was here last the recession had barely begun to register and whole job cuts and construction project cancellations hadn’t taken effect.

“In November [job seekers] were curious about why Saskatchewan was so hot. This time, the economy here has gone really bad and they want to know about moving west.”

How many recruits his efforts have won are not clear yet, Fougere says, but he thinks up to 20 people made the trek after last fall and this time he’s heading back with a stack of new resumes.

“It’s very much a work in progress,” he says. “When you think about it, they’re uprooting their families and that takes a while.”

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