Don’t Tell Toronto: London is Attracting a Future Workforce

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London is working as a community to stand out in the high-stakes contest for talent by building strong pathways for employers to attract, recruit and retain skilled workers for the present and the future.

Job opportunities are plentiful in London in a variety of sectors, including life sciences, manufacturing, food processing, and logistics.

Technology is particularly strong, growing in employment by 67 per cent in the past five years. London is No. 10 on the Next 25 up-and-coming North American tech markets in CBRE’s 2021 Scoring Tech Talent report.

It’s expected that more than 3,000 jobs will be created in the London region during the next two years, adding to more than 6,000 job vacancies in the city and region as the area economy emerges from the pandemic. In 2021, 1,100 jobs have been created in London alone and the Conference Board of Canada has projected the London-area economy will grow by 5.9 per cent in 2022.

“For two decades, London has fully recognized the imperative of talent as the key to the attraction of new companies and as an enabler for companies to stay and grow in the city,” said Robert Collins, director of workforce development at the London Economic Development Corporation (LEDC).

Maximizing the existing workforce

Workforce stakeholders in London have pulled together to create a seamless ecosystem that serves job-seekers, employers and the economy. That includes bi-annual community job fairs and a strategic approach to workforce development.

The Employment Sector Council’s (ESC) Job Developer Network ensures that when an employer works with any non-profit employment agency, they work with them all, says Carol Stewart, project manager with ESC.

“No organization has exactly the right candidate for every job opportunity. By pooling together, we can help more employers and get more jobs to those who are looking,” she said.

“It’s essentially like having a professional team in your corner and that’s particularly useful for small and medium businesses that may not have a human resources department.”

The collaboration creates a system that is much easier to navigate for job-seekers and employers, says Stewart. And when large companies arrive or existing companies expand, working together means recruiting happens much more quickly and efficiently.

Some organizations serve particular groups, including Indigenous communities, youth and second-career, and by working together, those populations have access to a wider range of opportunities.

A unique aspect for London is LEDC digital job boards showcasing opportunities in the manufacturing (343 jobs from 70 employers in October) and technology sectors (253 jobs from 47 employers) that automatically feed to job boards at Fanshawe College, Western University, and the Workforce Planning and Development Board of Elgin, Middlesex, Oxford. That vastly amplifies the reach without duplicating effort.

Another great example is London and Area Works, a regular segment on the city’s CTV affiliate that takes potential employees behind closed doors to see opportunities that are available.

Connecting to post-secondary institutions

The LEDC has signed a formal memorandum of understanding with Fanshawe College in which the college shares program ideas and gets input from local employers on program advisory committees.

Another key is microcredentials that deliver rapid training in specific skill sets to answer immediate and emerging workforce needs. Fanshawe offers more than 200 microcredentials, while Western has 86.

Western University’s Own Your Future program, is a unique career development program for doctoral students, which came out of recognition that the majority of graduates – 70 to 80 per cent – are finding jobs outside academia.

“So we wanted to design something that helped students think about their career paths and that targeted professional and employment skills,” said Lorraine Davies, associate vice provost in the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

Two years of research, consultations and curriculum development went into the program and the input of employers was critical, says Davies.

“They have been so helpful in directing us to be less academic and more focused on employer needs. This program helps our students see the range of opportunities in London, but also helps them articulate their skills in ways employers can understand.”

Says Mihaela Harmos, postdoctoral services coordinator: “London wants to do anything possible to keep talent here.”

King’s University College at Western University launched its King’s Promise in 2021. It promises that any student who hasn’t found meaningful employment six months after graduation can return for courses or career education free of cost. The program is unique in Ontario.

“It’s a promise to our students that we stand behind the education we provide, it’s a promise to employers that our graduates contribute to more creative, more fair and more equitable workplaces, and it’s a promise to our community that our students will be change-makers and leaders,” said Joe Henry, dean of students.

As well, Life After King’s showcases the career paths of graduates, who visit classrooms and often work as mentors to students.

“Our alumni are doing amazing things, so this validates what our students can do with their liberal arts education at King’s,” said Henry. “Between 50 and 60 per cent of our students are from London and the surrounding area and most them want to stay here. So we are proud of our role in creating competencies in our students that they then want to contribute to their city.”

LEDC and its partners are working to make newcomers aware of what London has to offer.

“We just need to open eyes to cities beyond Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver and get international talent to consider mid-sized cities like London,” said Collins. “Quality of life, the city’s diversity, and its relative affordability are all attractive to newcomers.”

London is one of a few municipalities with a fulsome immigration strategy, says Jill Tansley, manager of strategic programs and partnerships in the City of London’s anti-racism and antioppression division.

Labour market growth can only be achieved through newcomers, says Tansley, and London’s vision is to be a leader in attracting, welcoming and retaining them.

London attracting Toronto workforce

The community-led strategy involved extensive consultations with newcomer groups, settlement organizations, workforce agencies, employers, business groups, and post-secondary institutions.

The objectives are to: raise awareness of London as a destination for newcomers; enhance local understanding of the contributions of immigration to the city’s future; remove barriers to newcomers as they settle in the city; and ensure necessary supports are in place.

A key focus, along with attracting skilled workers and entrepreneurs, are the 13,000-plus international students who come to Fanshawe, Western and its three affiliates each year.

The LEDC was named a referral partner to Canada’s Global Skills Strategy, which allows new and growing local companies to be connected to a key contact at Immigration, Refugees and Citizen Canada. As well, under the Global Talent Stream, if an employer identifies a need for mission critical talent, LEDC can help it seek a two-year work permit on an accelerated basis.

LEDC’s Don’t Tell Toronto campaign, launched in February, promotes the city’s green space, lower density, more affordable housing and plentiful jobs in the hopes of luring some big-city dwellers to the Forest City.

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