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Is Sarnia’s brain drain finally ending?

Published on

Cathy Dobson

Young people who leave the city to attend college and university are increasingly returning to their hometown, says Shauna Carr, executive director of the Sarnia Lambton Workforce Development Board.

“A lot are coming back. They are coming back to raise their families and buy homes, and they are bringing their friends,” Carr said following the release of a new labour market survey.

Many of those university grads are starting their own small and medium-sized businesses, where they are working in finance, law, public relations and other professional sectors including graphic design, engineering and consulting.

“I think that collectively Sarnia-Lambton has worked very hard to get the message out there that this is a good place to do business and to live. It’s bringing our young people home, especially after they see what the cost of living is in places like Toronto.

“The reality is that the backbone of the local economy is small and medium enterprises,” said Carr.

The survey also found that local youth need to obtain more education if they want to find a job.

Forty-eight per cent of employers in Sarnia-Lambton say the local labour pool isn’t filling their needs and more training and education is necessary.

“As a community, we really need to understand that you need post-secondary education, and, if you are a professional, you still need to be thinking about continuing education,” Carr said.

“Parents who want to help their kid find work, especially work here, should get familiar with the labour market information so they can point their student in the right direction.”

Sarnia’s petrochemical economy historically offered full-time, well-paid employment to those with a high school education. The survey found 32% of the local population has attained a high school diploma and gone no further.

But petrochemical jobs that require only a high school education have disappeared, while jobs requiring apprenticeships, college and university degrees are growing.

“We’re moving away from a labour-intensive economic base to a more intellectually-based labour force,” said Carr.  “We’re a changing community and we’re trying to get parents on board so that they encourage post secondary education.”

The survey also found that as of June 2015, there were 11,137 businesses operating in Sarnia-Lambton. Two-thirds were owner-operated with no employees.  About 25% had up to nine employees.

Less than one per cent of local businesses employ 100 people or more.

The most recent data indicates Sarnia-Lambton’s unemployment rate is 7.3% and that 3,400 people found work locally between June 2014 and June 2015.


* Median income for employed residents is $49,467 compared to a provincial median of $50,116.

* 24% went to college, compared to 20% of Ontario’s population.

* 11% of pursued apprenticeships, versus 7% of Ontarians.

* 12% has a university degree or better, compared to 23% of Ontarians.

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