A new economic task force has been set up in the Grand Lake area but instead of hunting for jobs it’s searching for people.

The Grand Lake labour force committee has a goal of counteracting a dwindling population and a decreasing workforce in the area, said committee chairman Kris Austin.

“Businesses of all types are struggling in our area to fill positions for skilled employees,” he said.

The committee consists of local businesses, municipal councillors from Minto and Chipman, the Department of Post Secondary Education, Training and Labour, Enterprise Central, local unions, and consultants, he said.

Austin is a councilor in Minto who also works for Gaddis Industrial, a major employer in the area that’s expanding.

He said the company is looking for machinists and welders.

“It’s a complex issue,” said Austin.

“I don’t think there is going to be an easy answer or a quick fix.”

He said the committee will look at everything from whether there’s enough advertising across the province – and as far away as Alberta and the United States -to school curriculums.

“We should have the trades back in the high schools,” he said.

“That is another thing this committee is formed for, to find ways to connect the dots between those two.”

Austin said the next step for the committee is to set up a workshop for local businesses and non-profits to talk about the challenges.

“This is a very diverse group of community leaders and everyday citizens that will no doubt provide insight and solutions to our deteriorating workforce,” he said.

“I am optimistic about the regional economic benefits that this committee can bring to the table.”

The public will also be involved in the process after the workshop, Austin said.

Eventually the committee will go the provincial government with its findings, he said. The results could become a model for all of rural New Brunswick, said Austin.

Don McIver, director of research at the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, said the labour shortage in the province will only get worse.

“We are accustomed to thinking there is going to be an unemployment rate forever,” he said.

“One of the big developments we just haven’t got our minds around in this country is this change in the age of the population and Atlantic Canada is actually at the forefront in North America where the aging population is going to be most evident.

“Our population is aging faster than it is in other parts of Canada.”

In turn, Canada’s population is aging faster than the United States because the U.S. has a large, illegal but young immigration population crossing its southern border, he said.

McIver said trying to lure New Brunswickers back home from the western oil fields is a good strategy. But the success rate will depend on the salaries here, he said.

“The chances of bringing someone to a relatively low-paying position in Atlantic Canada if they’re living high off the hog on the oil fields of Alberta (is small),” he said.

“You have to look at the whole picture.”