Manitoba Youth Attraction & Retention Study | Is being affordable enough?

Jun 13, 2023 | Advocacy in Action, Economic Development, From the Desk of the President, Policy, Workforce

The following article, written by Chuck Davidson & Janet Lane, ran in the opinion sections of the Winnipeg Free Press on June 13. This is part of the ongoing work the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce is doing in partnership with the Canada West Foundation, Economic Development Winnipeg, Rural Manitoba Economic Development Corporation and Business Coucill of Manitoba. 

Learn more about the Manitoba Youth Attraction and Retention Study. Share your insights by taking the employer survey.

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It’s a point of pride in Manitoba that the province is affordable. Heck! You can buy a house and a cottage at the lake for less than the price of a house in many other parts of the country.

But is that enough? What’s the balance between affordability and livability?

Between 2012 and 2022, Manitoba attracted just over a quarter of a million people; 105,000 came from other provinces and 150,000 immigrants made Manitoba their home. That’s not surprising. On one hand, Manitoba has a lot going for it. The province is rich in diversity in both its people and opportunities. It has one of the youngest populations in Canada at 37.7 years. Large First Nation, Métis, francophone and newcomer communities call Manitoba home, and a vibrant arts and cultural sector reflects the province’s cultural richness and diversity.

And yes, housing and rental prices are lower on average. Rentals.ca estimates that you can rent a one-bedroom apartment in Winnipeg for $500 less per month than the national average and $1,500 less than in Vancouver.

Another attraction is Manitoba’s diverse economy. Jobs in sectors such as biosciences, transportation and logistics, aeronautics and manufacturing offer many meaningful work opportunities. The labour market is tight. With the lowest unemployment rate in the country in 2022 and second lowest forecast for 2023 and 2024, young Manitobans should find it relatively easy to find jobs. There were 26,000 vacant jobs at last count (December 2022). And while other provinces experienced wild economic fluctuations during the pandemic, Manitoba’s wide range of industries and businesses helped the province maintain economic stability and its GDP is expected to continue to grow, albeit more slowly than it did last year.

So why, with all this and more making Manitoba a great place to live and work, did 169,000 people pack up and leave to go live in another province between 2012 and 2022?

While thousands of people move in and out of all the provinces each year, Manitoba’s migration numbers have been consistently net negative for decades. This steady loss of people, especially young adults who are vital to building the economy, is worrisome. With this in mind, the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, with support from the Manitoba government, has asked the Canada West Foundation to help find solutions.

Canada West Foundation has already learned through their earlier research in Alberta that young adults look for more than just wages when they choose an employer. As an example, in recent years, many have pushed for the opportunity to work remotely. And while economic issues like jobs and affordable housing are top of mind when young adults choose a place to live, safe and clean communities, vibrancy and a feeling of inclusion are also critical. Do young adult Manitobans have similar thoughts? Stay tuned, we will have some answers over the next few months.

More than 1,700 18- to 45-year-olds in Manitoba and four major cities have already been surveyed on their perceptions, expectations and preferences when they make their choice about where to live and work. More Gen Z and millennials (people born since the early ‘80s) will be reached through additional surveys, one of which will be geared to alumni of Manitoba’s post-secondary institutions. Meanwhile, Manitoba’s employers are also being asked for their thoughts about worker skills and labour shortages and how they, as employers, meet the needs of the younger generations in the workforce. Further research will be done over the next few months.

The data collected, combined with an understanding of how other places in the world have stemmed the tide of youth migration, will provide the information needed to develop some recommendations about how government, communities and employers can attract and retain young talent.

On the whole, younger generations work to live — they value their leisure time and look for livability, not just affordability when they choose their communities. This research aims to find specific, practical solutions to the persistent outflow of people from the province and ways to help Manitoba continue to grow and thrive.

Janet Lane is director of the Human Capital Centre at the Canada West Foundation, and Chuck Davidson is the president and CEO of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce.

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