Workforce deficit can’t be ignored

Projections for job growth among existing businesses on Vancouver Island are very sobering

Projections for job growth among existing businesses on Vancouver Island are very sobering. A recent survey of mid-island businesses found that 60 per cent of all job openings between now and 2014 will be due to attrition by retirees and workers moving away.

Labour market studies tell us the Island’s workforce is in decline. In 2009, the labour force (workers 15 to 65) made up 70 per cent of the population. Over the next 25 years, that will drop to 60 per cent. By 2018, there will be more seniors here than children, and by 2036 there will be four dependent seniors for every 10 workers.

An effective job creation strategy must recognize that as baby boomers retire in droves, a grey tsunami is sweeping the land. On top of this, increasing competition from outside our communities for skilled workers is fuelling out-migration. There is also a deficit of workforce development opportunities for young people. As well, retraining of laid off resource workers is spotty at best.

Whether it is here or in the Hinterland, B.C.’s challenge could not be more obvious. If we are going to sustain economic stability outside the 604 area code, it is absolutely vital that we nurture our young people, make sure they are well educated and trained and give them reasons to stay in their home environs to fill the job vacuum that is almost upon us.

Two months ago, Premier Christy Clark issued a jobs manifesto boldly called “Canada Starts Here.” As I mentioned in this space at the time, to find promise in the jobs plan required a generous extrapolation of wishful thinking from a document that was heavy on hyperbole, but feather-light on hard hats.

Premier Clark went around B.C. in September to weave an economic development dream based on her undertaking that our young people “shouldn’t have to move to get a job in British Columbia.”

Her credibility was paper thin. About a week before she launched the plan her parliamentary secretary, John Les, created a furor in Nanaimo when he suggested that young people should consider moving to where the jobs are, notably to northern cities to “expand their horizons.”

As it happens, Les was ahead of his premier. Two months after Premier Clark said B.C.’ers should not have to leave their communities to find work, we learn that she has given the green light for an advertising campaign that will encourage the unemployed to go north where the jobs are.

Jobs, Tourism & Innovation Minister Pat Bell said: “We want to let people know where there are jobs. Right now, north of Quesnel, unemployment rates are pretty low … job growth in the north has been extraordinary in all trades-related fields.”

The sad fact is that the jobs plan was cobbled together to leave the impression that Premier Clark had an economic agenda substantive enough to carry her untested administration all the way to the 2013 election. In fact, it utterly failed to address the workforce deficit being created by an aging population and a neglected generation of new young workers here in our communities.

Now we are asked to endure an advertising blitz that says Canada Starts Here — if you have a one-way bus ticket north. M

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