Unemployment is a complex topic. In an age of shifting values and industrial exodus, one can’t help but bring up the topic of “jobs” from time to time.

The United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR) are no strangers to change. The socio-economic landscape has transformed over the last decades, for better or worse, thus raising many questions.

What are the unemployment rates for the region? What initiatives are put into place to help out? How does the situation differ from the eastern to the fast-developing western municipalities? When does the aging population factor come into play?

Before tackling these questions, one must first look at the numbers. Data gathered by Statistics Canada during the 2016 census are now available and may paint a quick portrait, laying the groundwork for further analysis. That said, here are some interesting statistics for the UCPR:

  • The population for the UCPR stand at 89,333, with an average age of 42 (83.2% of that amount are 15 years of age or older).
  • The labour force numbers 48,170 (approximately 54% of 89,333).
  • Of that 48,170-strong labour force, 2,550 individuals are unemployed, which translates to a 5.3% unemployment rate for the UCPR.

This global statistical portrait doesn’t necessarily reflect the realities of every division of the UCPR, however. The following numbers reveal some more localized-yet-contrasting realities.

  • Hawkesbury has the highest workforce unemployment rate at 9.5% (ie. 415 out of the 4,325-strong workforce are unemployed) and the highest average age at 48.2.
  • The lowest unemployment rate, 2.4%, is held by Casselman, but the division also holds one of the smallest labour forces at 1,865.
  • Second to that is Russell, where 4.1% of its 9,405-strong workforce is unemployed.
  • In terms of age, the youngest division is La Nation, with an average age of 38.7.

There are many more numbers, but those provided represent some of the extremes. Those wishing to further delve into the world of statistics will find plenty of information on Statistics Canada’s website: http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/dp-pd/prof/.

Behind the numbers – A brief overview

Every statistic has a story. While it’s tempting to simply state that Hawkesbury holds the highest unemployment rate purely for shock value, remembering the context at the time information was gathered is also important.

Carole Muise, Communications Agent for the Prescott and Russell Employment Centre (CSEPR), sheds some light on the matter.

“While looking at Hawkesbury’s unemployment rate, which is quite high, we may wonder why that is. We surmised that back when this data was collected, the town had just seen major layoffs and dismissals after the Jean Coutu distribution centre moved away to Varennes. It may have had a big impact.”

That, coupled with the gradual change of Hawkesbury’s industrial landscape and an aging population, provides a solid foundation for the understanding of its high unemployment rate.

The UCPR’s westernmost communities may have much lower unemployment rates, but their economic contexts are also vastly different than those of the central and eastern divisions.

“A lot of people who live in the west work in Ottawa. For many, the western towns are bedroom communities, a fact that contributes greatly in keeping their unemployment rates low,” said Muise.

As for explaining the average age difference, there are many available theories. For instance, more and more youth pursue their studies past high school, heading immediately to either college or university.

Most of these institutions are found in large urban centres. Youth attending an Ottawa-based institution who hail from a western community such as Rockland, Russell or Casselman have the possibility of travelling to school from home. Those who live in East Hawkesbury may find that too harsh of a routine, preferring to move to the city for an undetermined amount of time.

Those that do come back to join the local workforce are always a welcome sight, but in no way guarantee a long-lasting solution if job opportunities are limited.

“The job market has changed significantly. Even though many employers seek to hire the young to ensure continuity, keeping the young employee around for the next 20 years isn’t a certainty. Many youth simply wish to gain experience before moving on,” said Muise, adding that “values have changed.”

For some employers, this may seem demoralizing at first glance. However, according to Muise, this shift in values can be an advantage for some of Prescott and Russell’s more mature job seekers.

“We (the CSEPR) try to make employers aware of both sides’ advantages. More mature workers may represent an opportunity to gain instant experience at a reasonable rate.”

An additional point of view

Francis Drouin, MP for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, had a lot to say on the topic. Drouin acknowledges that, in terms of employment, the needs of the western communities differ than those of the east.

With regard to Hawkesbury’s reputation and its high unemployment rate, Drouin had this to say:

“I know that Hawkesbury has one of the country’s lowest median income rates, but that’s not truly representative of reality. Hawkesbury remains strong when compared to many other communities. That’s what happens when you only look at median income. For example, people who receive the Canada child benefit aren’t taxed on that amount so it’s not considered income.”

For Drouin, positive change starts with our youth.

“The importance of education is not to be underestimated. It’s something I tell young people often. It’s the best way to escape poverty. Local employers often talk to me about a lack of trained, skilled labour in the area. It’s a vicious cycle.”

Prescott and Russell is not the only region to face such a challenge. While Drouin agrees that bringing back our youth to the area is important, he encourages us to look to the success of others for inspiration.

“Many rural communities recruit skilled labour from outside their own pool, often from large urban centres. It’s a good way to break the cycle. As for our own young workforce, how can we convince them to return or stay? We need a good retention strategy.”

Every challenge presents an opportunity. For Drouin, the silver lining is bright and holds many interesting options.

“There are plenty of opportunities. Social enterprises like Groupe Convex are a good example. The CSEPR does wonderful work,” said Drouin, adding that “there are jobs here. The hospital’s expansion and Bell Canada’s investment in Hawkesbury’s internet are game changers. As MP, it’s definitely a selling point for me. These changes will most likely help convince new businesses, talent and families with disposable income to move to the area.”

Looking for work?

Prescott and Russell job seekers aged between 15 and 65 may call upon the services of the Employment Centre (CSEPR). On top of having hundreds of local jobs posted on their website, the CSEPR is hosting the 2018 Job Fair, held on March 17 in Hawkesbury and March 24 in Rockland. For more information on this event, visit https://csepr.ca/foire-emploi.