The story of Atlantic Canada today is one of new, concrete opportunity spawning from real and profound change. It will be complex, but if we get it right, the region can flourish.
Why? The region has collectively weathered the pandemic as well or better than most parts of the world, bringing new and sustained attention to the benefits of living and working here that was harder won in years past. There is now a spotlight on Atlantic Canada. In this time of great migration, local communities stand to bolster their populations, diversity and growth potential in new and exciting ways.
With every opportunity comes challenge.
Immigration, recruitment, and retention will remain in the headlines
The changes we’ve experienced with migration, talent recruitment, retention and working life have been nearly as transformative as the pandemic itself. These changes are an advantage for Atlantic Canada. The region has a strong reputation as a place where people can build fulfilling careers and balanced lives. This cultural trend represents a substantive shift that our region can and is capitalizing on.
Consider Nova Scotia: it has just surpassed the 1 million population mark and in 2021, experienced a record year for immigration. Projections are not slowing. As The Atlantic argued in an early 2021 story, “Find a Place You Love. Then Move There."
The implication for organizations—and universities, tourist destinations, cities and towns—is positive; we will benefit from diversity, a broader talent pool, innovation and competition. But there are acute challenges here and present across most North American mid-size cities and communities. Can we act to keep housing affordable? Can we create the infrastructure to sustain population growth in our larger centres? Can we ensure the benefits of economic growth are inclusive? Can we create the supports we need for successful immigration stories?
Change communications: Employee engagement, employee flexibility, diversity and inclusion, brand purpose, work-life balance, digital transformation…
…. the list goes on. The facts and anecdotes are now entrenched:
- Employees seek brand purpose
- Generational workforce differences are huge
- Work-life balance is no longer optional
- Canadians are worn out from pandemic changes and disruptions
- Working-from-home systems and processes have altered (and for many improved) how and where work gets done
- Mental health is a daily focus for HR departments
- And importantly, meaningful action on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is a now a C-suite imperative
This is far from a complete list of accelerated and changing trends going into 2022.
Now, a central factor in every organization’s success will be its ability not only to enact change, but to communicate these changes effectively. Indeed, the latter will have a direct impact on the success of the former. As with recruitment, this is both a challenge and opportunity. Those who do it well will be more resilient and agile than those who don’t.
Sectors and industries will shift and evolve
Atlantic Canada’s economy is still largely dependent on the natural resources sectors, like fisheries and aquaculture, agri-food, and forestry. Innovation is taking place within these sectors, and governments are investing in sector development (management, research, skills development, and the tools required to increase sustainability and grow exports). As these industries evolve and new sectors emerge, retraining, investment attraction, and export marketing, will increase in importance.
Two cases in point: One quarter or more of Newfoundland and Labrador’s economy is dependent on non-renewable extraction; it must transition and diversify as greener economies take hold.
In healthcare, the adoption of virtual health offerings will play a critical role in the region, which continues to face a massive shortage of doctors and nurses. Burnout and “The Big Quit” in healthcare will be a challenge for years to come, with impacts on economic development, potential migration, and other factors well beyond what we can currently predict.
Significant transitions like these can’t be understated in terms of their complexity and impact. Governments must create conditions for these sectors to succeed and for new sectors to emerge. The private sector must see the opportunity and compete with agility.
But perhaps most of all, a critical mass of people who see opportunity in change will be the biggest influence on whether we leap forward in the 2020s or fall back.