Feds, province foresee labour shortage

B.C. premier Christy Clark and federal minister Jason Kenney spoke at the 2014 State of the Island Economic Summit in Nanaimo this week.

Jason Kenney

Too many job openings is a better problem to have than the alternative, said the premier, but it’s a problem, and one that’s being discussed.

B.C. premier Christy Clark and Jason Kenney, the federal minister of employment and social development, both talked about the coming labour shortage during speeches at the 2014 State of the Island Economic Summit in Nanaimo this week.

“A lot of folks say that … this is just a fiction of the imagination of businesses, who are inventing a labour shortage as an argument to defend keeping wages down. And I think nothing could be further from the truth,” said Kenney on Thursday afternoon at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre. “In certain sectors and regions, there are real skills gaps and real labour shortages. And with the aging of the population, those will only get worse.”

Clark said next year in B.C., there will be fewer young people entering the work force than older people retiring. Her government foresees a million job openings by 2022, two-thirds of those driven by retirements.

“We have to keep up with that and the only way we’ll do that is by making sure that British Columbians have the skills that they need to fill those jobs,” she said.

She said the province’s ministry of jobs, tourism and skills training has mapped out how many jobs will be needed in each sector, month by month, year by year, and is preparing accordingly. Clark mentioned recent investments in post-secondary trade programs that have cut wait lists, and talked about re-thinking secondary school programming.

Kenney said he’s pleased with the province’s skills training strategy, and said Canada could learn from successful trades training around the world. He said in countries like Germany and Switzerland, trades people finish their apprenticeships when they’re 19 years old.

“They graduate with a certificate that is regarded as having the same social and economic value as a university academic degree,” Kenney said. “They are not wasting their potential if they go into an apprenticeship or trade or vocation, they are realizing their potential.”

He expressed concern that private skills training is on the decline nationwide.

“We must see an increase by orders of magnitude in private-sector investments in job training,” Kenney said. “This isn’t to scold businesses, it’s to say, let’s work in partnership.”

Immigration will be linked to filling the labour gap, the minister added. Canada needs a “fast, flexible, demand-driven system that’s labour-market related,” he said, and pointed to a new program called the express entry system which will begin in January. Prospective immigrants will make their expressions of interest and employers will be able to search that database. The government will process applications in a matter of months instead of years, Kenney said.

He agreed that the coming labour shortage could be felt more deeply in smaller communities if there becomes competition to attract workers. The minister said he has already talked to mid-Island companies about the number of youths leaving the region for high-paying jobs in northern Alberta.

“There is more competition and opportunities for you to move around the country,” Kenney said. “Which is why it’s important to have strong industries and private-sector economic growth and investments in places like Vancouver Island, like in Nanaimo.”

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