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Economic development group says French-language labour gap persists in Nova Scotia

Non-profit group recruits from abroad to address apparent labour gap in Nova Scotia

4 min read
caption Julie Oliver says CDENE represents companies looking for French-speaking workers.
Sandra Hannebohm
caption Julie Oliver says CDÉNÉ represents companies looking for French-speaking workers.
Sandra Hannebohm

French service providers can’t find enough local workers in Nova Scotia, according to a not-for-profit organization dedicated to francophone economic development in the province.

“There’s nobody applying, and the other difficulty is that it’s in the (French) regions, which are rural, and it’s hard to attract people to the rural areas,” said Julie Oliver, executive director of Le Conseil de Développement Économique de la Nouvelle-Écosse.

Health care and early childhood education companies struggle to recruit within Nova Scotia because they can’t find enough francophones with relevant credentials.

To help close the labour gap, CDÉNÉ travelled to a trade fair in Europe in November, representing employers who couldn’t afford to send someone from their own company. Oliver said these companies had been looking in Nova Scotia for some time unsuccessfully.

caption CDENE represents companies searching for skilled French-speaking workers in Nova Scotia.
Sandra Hannebohm

Oliver said some of the companies CDÉNÉ represents are long-term care facilities in need of nurses where there’s a francophone population.

“When you’re ill, you revert to your first language, and people are a lot more comfortable (using that language) because they’re vulnerable at that stage,” said Oliver.

Part of the problem, Oliver said, is that there aren’t people in Nova Scotia getting French-language training in health care or education.

No health-care program guarantee

Université Sainte-Anne offers programs in education, taught in French, at five different locations across the province with a job guarantee for graduates, so if a former student isn’t able to find work they can return for free courses at the same program level.

The guarantee doesn’t apply if the graduate is able to find work in another province, and it doesn’t apply to graduates from health-care programs.

Oliver wants the province to develop partnerships that provide French-language training in health care for francophone Nova Scotians.

“New Brunswick, for example, bridges programs together so if they need certain courses in French — maybe even while working or doing an internship — they can do the training, maybe even online,” she said.

Oliver said CDÉNÉ can’t recruit from Quebec because they compete for French-speaking workers in the same regions. “In fact, they participate in the same international job fairs as we do, and have a bigger capacity for hiring francophone workers due to their larger population and number of employers.”

They aren’t able to recruit for francophone businesses every year, Oliver said. This was the first time in five years that they were able to afford to send someone to the European trade fair.

caption Julie Oliver (left) and Natalie Comeau (right) work at CDÉNÉ, a non-profit helping French businesses.
Sandra Hannebohm

High demand

One of the companies on that trade mission was Le Petit Voilier, a non-profit early education centre located in five schools in the municipality with long wait-lists.

Maryse Truax, who works at one of the centre’s locations at École du Sommet in Bedford, says families applying to put their children in one of the French educational centres face a long wait-list nearing 1,000. Families who apply aren’t taken off the list no matter how long they wait.

A spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Office of Immigration agreed that international recruitment is necessary. Lena Diab, minister of immigration, Acadian affairs and francophonie, went to a job fair in France to address persistent labour gaps in Nova Scotia.

“Unless Nova Scotia grows its population and increases the population of working age people, we will not be able to sustain current levels of economic well-being across the province, let alone improve them,” said Andrew Preeper, spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Office of Immigration.

‘Invisible minority’

Victor Tetreault of the Francophone Chamber of Commerce, who works with CDÉNÉ and other organizations to address the labour gap, said there are plenty of people able to work in French-language jobs.

He said part of the trouble with finding French-speaking workers is the fact that they’re an “invisible minority.” Francophones don’t ask for French services if they also speak fluent English, he noted.

The 2016 census reports almost 30,000 Nova Scotians speak French as a first language, and over 95,000 people speak both English and French. Tetreault said there are 12,000 francophones in Halifax and no shortage of people who can provide services in French.

“It’s a matter of being able to connect with these people, and make them aware that there are companies searching for them.”

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