25k by 2020: BC’s looming labour crisis

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It’s already a tight market for some industries, but the worst is yet to come according to a report from British Columbia’s universities. In just three years BC will hit a tipping point where the number of vacant jobs outnumbers the province’s qualified workers.

The province has comparably low under-graduate degree rates, ranking eighth in Canada for degrees per 100,000 population. The report notes that while BC has historically been able to rely on highly educated migrants, both from within Canada and internationally, the number of migrants to BC has decreased in the past two years.

By 2020 “approximately 18,800 jobs could go unfilled because too few British Columbians have the necessary training,” according to the report.

The biggest growth area was the services sector, which increase by 56% from 1996 to 2011, with the professional, scientific and technical sector also experiencing significant growth.

“A skills and talent deficit is imminent – with a tipping point just three years away, in 2016. If BC's regions are unable to attract migrants, labour market pressures will be even more intense,” the report’s authors wrote. “BC needs to continue to diversify its economy by developing workers who will contribute to a knowledge economy in high-growth areas, such as the technology sector.”

The report endorses the Research University Council of British Columbia ‘s Opportunity Agenda, which calls on provincial leaders to address the looming skills gap by 11,000 new spaces over four years in graduate and undergraduate university, college and trades programs.

“Our overall objective is to alert British Columbians of the fundamental challenge we are facing in the economy,” Stephen Toope, president of the University of British Columbia, told the Globe and Mail. At a time when the provincial government is trimming spending on advanced education, he said time is short to respond to the pending shortfall. “We hope the government will pay close attention to that. … We are in trouble.”

However, the focus should not be on basic trades and skills, warned Andrew Petter, president of Simon Fraser University. “Over the next five years, those skills gaps for higher levels of training will be greatest – we are talking about economists, managers – the people who are going to help the economy to grow.”

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