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Influx of workers expected to fill job shortfalls in most areas of B.C.

Government projections say immigration should fill the gaps, but with notable exceptions
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The Quesnel Bridge is one of the landmarks of the Cariboo. Once a boom region of B.C., the latest labour forecast from the province finds that employment in the region is expected to grow by 0.1 per year during the next decade. (Photo courtesy of Steve Sarjola).

The provincial government’s latest labour forecast no longer predicts worker shortages for B.C. thanks to more immigrants and young people starting their first jobs.

But the regional picture emerging from the Labour Market Outlook presented by Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills Minister Selina Robinson Friday (Nov. 23) could spell bad news in the more remote parts of the province.

The annual Labour Market Outlook is a 10-year forecast that gives current and future post-secondary students, organizations and employers the latest information to help them make informed decisions about careers, skills training, education, and hiring.

It foresees a “more balanced future labour market” with the number of job seekers essentially matching the number of job openings, which the report pegs at 1 million between 2023 and 2033.

But a different picture emerges when looking at the importance of immigration.

Close to half of all new workers (46 per cent) entering the labour market between 2023 and 2033 will be immigrants (just behind the number of young people under the age of 29 entering the workforce for the first time (47 per cent).

But if the bulk of immigrants continue to settle in the Lower Mainland/Southwest of B.C., it could lead to labour shortages in other regions. While the report does not predict where immigrants to B.C. will settle, figures from the Ministry of Post-Secondary Education and Skills suggest a regional mismatch between immigrants and job openings.

In the decade from 2011 to 2021, nearly 86 per cent of immigrants settled in the Lower Mainland/Southwest region, which is expected to create nearly 63 per cent of all job openings in the next decade. By contrast, every region outside Lower Mainland/Southwest is expected to have more job openings in the future than its past share of immigrants, with the difference especially high in the Thompson-Okanagan and Vancouver Island/Coast.

Overall, government expects that employment growth will be lower in the Northeast, the Kootenay and the Cariboo due to aging populations and lower levels of immigration. These regions also have what economists would call sunset industries.

Consider the Cariboo, where the government expects 21,000 new job openings over the next decade with 98 per cent coming mainly from retirements.

The province expects Cariboo employment to grow by 0.1 per cent per year in the next decade — below the region’s expected population growth of 0.3 per cent, and far below the expected annual employment growth for B.C. at 1.2 per cent.

“Given the high number of retirements that are expected, pressure to replace these retiring workers will be felt across a variety of industries (in the Cariboo) but mainly with providers of health, education and retail trade services,” it reads.

B.C.’s Northeast (0.4 per cent), the Kootenay (0.5 per cent) and North Coast and Nechako (1.1 per cent) are also expected to see below-average growth in employment with job openings created through retirements largely exceeding job openings created through growth.

RELATED: B.C. needs to fill more than 1 million jobs within 10 years: report

What unites all of these regions has been a historic reliance on resource-extracting industries and the outlook for those industries appears mixed.

Employment in forestry is expected to decline by 1.3 per cent between now and 2033. That decline will be by 2.2 per cent per year over the next five years before recovering somewhat. Employment in agriculture and fishing, meanwhile, is expected to flat-line, with an annual growth of 0.1 per cent.

The story is different for mining and energy. Oil and gas employment is expected to grow by 1.4 per cent each year between now and 2033, while mining employment is expected to grow by one per cent.

That could create some regional employment opportunities in the Kootenay region, where mining ranks among the Top 5 industries with significant job openings (1,630). Mining and oil and gas extraction, meanwhile, ranks in the top 5 in job openings in the Northeast.

Looking elsewhere in the province, the Lower Mainland/Southwest, Vancouver Island/Coast and the Thompson-Okanagan will see employment growth matching the provincial rate of 1.2 per cent with the Lower Mainland/Southwest seeing the most job openings with more than 600,000 with economic growth accounting for more than 60 per cent of those jobs.

Based on the number of future job openings, Vancouver Island/Coast is B.C.’s second-most dynamic economic region with 174,000 openings followed by the Thompson/Okanagan with 124,600 openings.

Five industries will generate about 55 percent of all job openings across B.C. with health care and social assistance — likely a reflection of B.C.’s aging society — leading the way with 166,300 openings, or 17 per cent of total openings. The professional, scientific and technical services (14 per cent), retail (10 per cent), educational services (seven per cent) and construction (seven per cent) make up the rest of the Top 5 industries with openings.

Another gauge of B.C.’s health care needs is the demand for workers in the ambulatory health care services. That sector makes the Top 5 for job openings in six out of seven regions of B.C. except for the Northeast.

As immigrants play a growing role in the provincial labour force, so will younger people. The report expects that Millennials born between 1981 and 1996 are expected to make up more than one-third of the workforce by 2033 with Generation Z (those born between 1997 and 2012) becoming the largest group by end of the forecast.


@wolfgangdepner
wolfgang.depner@blackpress.ca

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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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