Despite the highest unemployment rate in Canada, this is why NL recruits Ukrainian refugees

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Nine-year-old Zoriana greets her sister, Sofiia, moments after she and their mother, Natalia, arrived from Poland in St. John’s on Monday. The Newfoundland and Labrador governments chartered flights for 166 Ukrainian refugees, and planned others. (Greg Locke/Canadian Press)

That’s quite a sight. A plane full of Ukrainian refugees landed Monday night in St. John’s, with a large group of well-wishers waiting inside the airport, waved a bright blue and yellow flag.

Politicians were there too, of course, making the timing of the event—it just so happened to coincide with the dinnertime news—that much more conspicuous.

Newfoundland and Labrador thus became the first provinces to fly in Ukrainian refugees, who have flocked to their countries since Russia invaded their country in February.

In addition to meeting critical humanitarian needs, Newfoundland and Labrador have not hesitated to seek out Ukrainian refugees to fill job vacancies. Gerry Byrne, minister of immigration, population growth and skills, said prior to the flight’s arrival that some of the 166 people on the flight from Poland had jobs they could do directly (assuming after a good night’s sleep).

Prime Minister Andrew Furey said Monday’s charter would not be the last. He also stressed that the NL response was founded on a place of compassion and help.

A Ukrainian man happily arrives at St. John’s on Monday. (Greg Locke/Canadian Press)

“We know we can step on the global stage, which we have [done] before, whether it was 9/11 or in World War I,” said Furey, who the government this winter set the table in Poland to help refugees flooding the Ukrainian border.

It is difficult to understand the magnitude of the flood of humanity. On Thursday, a United Nations organization updated its estimate of mass migration to over six million people has now left Ukraine in less than three months.

To put that number into perspective, that’s more than the population of British Columbia—and with NL and Prince Edward Island included there too.

Safe place comes first, said Furey

Furey told CBC on Monday that there are between 600 and 700 Ukrainians “now in line” in Poland to come to Newfoundland and Labrador.

He also underlined that in addition to a humanitarian response, Newfoundland and Labrador could use a boost for their workforce.

VIEW | Check out this scene from the Monday night landing of the NL’s first chartered flight for Ukrainian refugees:

Ukrainian refugees land in St. John’s

More than 150 Ukrainian refugees got acquainted with their new province of origin. A plane with 166 people landed at St. John’s on a Monday night. Hear from one of the province’s newest residents and watch the fun reunion in the video above.

“Of course we all know there is a demand for labor here. But more importantly, this needs a place, a safe place,” he said.

“So all the details about [labour market] saturation and balance immigration versus … job opportunities, we’ll sort it out over time. First and foremost, we want to provide a safe place and a place of hope and optimism for these people.”

At face value, it may seem odd that the province with the highest unemployment rate in Canada is so eager to bring in new job seekers.

But the job market here is much more complex than it looks, and there are key factors — where a person lives, and how old and skilled they are — connected to the story.

The NL unemployment rate in April was 10.8 percent, significantly higher than any other Canadian province. Those most likely to be unemployed fall into two main groups: those under 25, who are trying to open doors and start a career, and those over 54, who are trying to keep their careers, or at least pay. Bill. Anxiety is similar, at different ends of the age spectrum.

Demographic dilemma

Despite that number, it’s very common these days to see signs that need help in the St. John, and heard from employers in a variety of industries — from the fast-growing tech sector to home care to the service economy — say they’re having trouble recruiting workers. At least, again, in the metro area.

‘Help Wanted’ signs have become a common sight again in St. John’s. Employers ranging from gas stations to technology companies are advertising new workers. (Paul Daly/CBC)

Indeed, location is a big factor here.

The unemployment rate for St. John’s in April was 7.2 percent. Not the lowest among Canadian cities (bonjour, Quebec City, which is 2.6 percent), but comparable to Calgary (7.1 percent) and not too far from Toronto, at 6.4 percent.

After you factor in St. John’s is out of the equation, a much bleaker picture emerges for the entire province. The other provinces have an unemployment rate of 15.9 percent.

The province’s notorious demographic problem — there are now more adults than young children — provides a serious reason behind all this conversation. The recently released national census shows NL is the only province that lost population during that five year period.

The number of births has been under 4,000 per year for a while, and that expected to continue for many years. By contrast, the annual death toll is already more than 5,000 per year, and that number is expected to rise to 8,000 per year in the next two decades.

Ukrainians arrive on the job market who may be recruiting, but have some problems. New Canadians have shown that there are many problems to solve, especially the lack of consistent medicare coverage.

‘This can really help our economy’

Despite this, employers are looking. Wanda Cuff-Young, who works with the agency Work Global Canada, told CBC News last month that she quickly heard from a large number of professions when she posted an email address on a Facebook group aimed at connecting refugees with jobs and amenities.

“Nurses, IT people, engineers, lecturers, marketers … they come from very diverse backgrounds,” says Cuff-Young. Morning Show St. John.

Now18:52Helping Ukrainian refugees start a new life in Newfoundland

Ukrainian refugees arrived in Newfoundland this week, but what support do they need if local officials are to help them build a life there? Matt Galloway spoke with newcomer Lesya Dunaevskaya, local volunteer Brandon Ramey, and Tony Fang, a professor of economics at Memorial University of Newfoundland.

Right now, the first planes of Ukrainian refugees are settling in, and groups like the New Canadian Association are rushing to put in place the comfort people need. Housing, child care, and other issues need to be sorted out, as much as possible matching new arrivals to the jobs they can do.

Wanda Cuff-Young flips through piles of resumes from Ukrainians looking for work in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Caroline Hillier/CBC)

Also, no one knows how long the Ukrainians will stay. The Russian war is still raging, and it is absolutely impossible that some charter flights will want to make their fortune in another province.

But Cuff-Young is optimistic, and points out that Newfoundland and Labrador have long benefited from people coming from other coasts.

“This can really help our economy,” said Cuff-Young. “New people bring new business, new ideas.”

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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