Nova Scotia businesses can’t continue to alienate job-seeking young people and hope to have a thriving economy in future, says a Halifax pollster.

Don Mills, president of Corporate Research Associates, says he still sees too many young people continuing to head west because they can’t get their first break close to home.

“In Atlantic Canada we’ve had a culture where we snub people without experience because we can get away with it,” he said in a recent interview. “We can’t do that anymore. We have to change our ways.”

With a labour shortage “right around the corner,” Mr. Mills said employers can’t stand on the sidelines and simply hope young people will return when they have experience. They need to take a chance on people with little or no experience.

Companies have historically been reluctant to invest in training for employees who might leave after learning what the business is really all about, but Mr. Mills insists investing in young people is an investment in the success of a business.

In his experience with novice workers, 50 per cent have stayed and 50 per cent have moved on to other businesses. Some of his best employees today began without experience, he said.

Joan McArthur Blair, president of the Nova Scotia Community College system, said Canadian businesses spend less on training than most other places in the world and while she said she understands the reticence of companies to invest in training for an untested employee, she believes any education is always a good investment.

At the college she said there is a big focus on employee training. If workers leave to broaden their skill base somewhere else, that’s fine, she said, because they’ll often return after five or 10 years and bring new experience with them.

Mr. Mills said the province could help blunt the training expense by providing graduating students a $5,000 training incentive they could take with them to their first employer.

“That would get more bang for their buck than all the money poured into subsidizing employment for companies like Research in Motion,” he said.

Stephen Lund, head of Nova Scotia Business Inc., said the province runs programs aimed at introducing high school students to local opportunities in the information technology sector and works extensively with companies in the financial sector to recruit at local universities.

He believes the province has a strong record of keeping students in the province and bringing back former residents but is willing to consider constructive suggestions.

David Alpin, head of a national recruiting company that bears his name, told a recent meeting of Halifax human resource specialists that business in Alberta have been working for seven years on ways to get younger, less experienced people into the ranks.

“Atlantic Canadian businesses haven’t been catering to them because they haven’t had to,” he said. “The realities of the people marketplace are just beginning to be felt here.”

Ms. McArthur Blair said training is changing with a changing workforce. There is more consultation with industry in the design of programs and workers are able to choose how and where a programs delivered.