Manitoba jobs: businesses struggling to find skilled workers

An expansion of a Winnipeg-based furniture company is set to create hundreds of jobs in the city, but experts say finding qualified workers is difficult right now.

Palliser Furniture is expanding its North American manufacturing, including the addition of a 130,000-square-foot workspace to its Winnipeg operation.

Peter Tielman, the company’s president and CEO, said the decision was driven by tariffs placed on overseas furniture last year and a boom in sales during the pandemic.

“In a way, people were staying home, and I guess there was less competition for disposable income, and they were willing to invest in their homes, so for the home industry has benefited from it,” said Tielman.

The new expansion will create about 400 jobs in Mexico and 300 jobs in Winnipeg, but the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce says filling them might be difficult.

“If you’re looking for real skilled employees with specific sets of criteria that you’re looking for, the challenges are out there. There’s no question about that, it’s really impacting those small and medium-sized businesses,” noted Chuck Davidson, the chambers’ president and CEO.

According to Davidson, a third of businesses are struggling to find workers – with several companies sometimes bidding on the same employee.

One solution the chamber suggests is for government and educational institutions to work together to recruit new talent.

“These industries that are looking, we need to do a better job in terms of training young people and new people to enter some of these workforces, so I think that’s a real opportunity,” said Davidson.

Another solution the chamber suggests is increased immigration.

Provincial data shows immigration dropped by about a third during the pandemic, something the province wants to ramp back up.

Lloyd Axworthy, co-chair of Manitoba’s new Immigration Advisory Council and former federal minister, said the province is looking for innovative ways to attract people like international students.

“Some of them want to stay here and work and use their skills against simply adds to our general ability to have people at work with good incomes and maintaining an increasingly older population,” said Axworthy.

“We’ve always connected upon immigration,” Axworthy added. “I know when I was minister, one of the big flows into Manitoba was from the Philippines in terms of providing workers for the textile industry and also home care.”

Axworthy noted that the Ukrainian refugee situation is front of mind right now for the Immigration Advisory Council.

As for Palliser Furniture, Tielman said the company is working with the government to re-implement old newcomer employee programs.

“We hire a lot of first-generation immigrants and so we’re looking forward to those programs to be back on track, but in the meantime, we were fortunate, you know, that we were able to fill the postings we had so far ,” he said.

Tielman said construction on the expansion should finish this summer and he hopes to be at full capacity by the end of the year.

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