Landscape aren’t enough


I’ve heard two phrases over and over again during my first year in the Highlands. The first? Haliburton’s population is exploding. The second, in the words of one restaurant owner I spoke to, “no one wants to work anymore.”
There’s clearly a disconnect.
The 2021 census proves Haliburton’s population is indeed exploding.
And clearly many people want to work.
Pollsters predict unemployment across Canada is expected to be at around pre-pandemic levels in 2022. Nevertheless, a new report outlines worrying trends in the local workforce.
The Workforce Development Board’s (WDB) 2021 labour market planning report shows multiple sectors of the Highlands’ workforce in decline, contrary to the County’s growing population. While the population has risen by nearly 14 per cent since 2016, the accommodation and food service industry has seen a 238 person decline since 2017.
The WDB predicts more restaurants will shutter than open between now and 2024. You’d think a booming population would mean more teens eager to find jobs and young adults looking for summer jobs or service industry work, but that isn’t the case.
Some restaurants and even municipalities had to adjust their hours due to staffing issues. Even in high-paying trades jobs, Highlands companies report difficulty finding anyone to work.
Beyond developing training programs or school-based initiatives for the trades, we urge the County and its four municipalities to pay attention to the job market and census results as they plan for the future.
While information from the last six years isn’t available yet, the average age of a Highlander was more than 10 years higher than the average age of a Canadian in 2016. Around 32 per cent of our population are seniors, compared to around 13 per cent in the rest of Ontario. I’d guess we’ll see similar numbers when the data is released later this year.
I’d also wager few of our County’s elderly or those contributing to jaw-dropping construction activity are going to be applying for the jobs that the WDB says are hiring, whether at restaurants, our two hospitals or long-term care homes.
Without balanced demographics, Haliburton is in danger of facing an aging population without the services and healthcare infrastructure needed to support them. The HHHS is using agency nurses to staff emergency rooms, and the list of people waiting for a family doctor was at approximately 1,000 in early 2021.
Ambulance calls in the last year were up by over 30 per cent too. As our population ages, will our medical infrastructure be able to keep up with the need?
There’s already consistent job ads in the field. The WDB reports that in 2021, there were 98 job postings for home care, support work and other healthcare jobs. The time is now for young Highlanders to enter the skilled trades or healthcare industry, but beautiful landscapes aren’t enough to lure workers north.
For young folk who do move here, it’s hard to find your footing. I speak from experience. Passionate clubs, a vibrant music scene and outdoor pursuits have fed my love of the County but don’t clear the way to homeownership or long-term accommodation.
Rent, food costs, energy prices, and constant driving, combined with a lack of social hubs, can make life in the Highlands seem daunting. In 2017, Haliburton County published an Age-Friendly Master Plan.
As the Highlands grows, and businesses struggle to meet staffing demands, perhaps it’s time for another age-specific plan: one that incentivizes young people to move to, or stay in, our community for the sake of its long-term prosperity