Jock Finlayson, executive vice president and chief policy officer of the BC Business Council. (Submitted)

COLUMN: B.C. doesn’t have enough workers to meet industries’ demand

Jock Finlayson of BC Business Council writes about the provincial government’s Labour Market Outlook

For those interested in the hottest job trends, the provincial government’s new Labour Market Outlook is worth a look.

Over the next decade, the government is forecasting a total of 903,000 job openings in B.C. More than 600,000 will result from current workers transitioning into retirement.

Many of these positions can be filled by younger cohorts of workers, but that won’t be enough to produce warm bodies for all of the expected vacancies.

The other 300,000 job openings will arise due to economic growth. To staff these, the supply of workers will have to be expanded — through immigration, by attracting people from other provinces, and by tapping into underutilized labour pools.

A historic shift

In the next 20 years, our labour force will undergo an unprecedented shift. For the first time, new workforce entrants will be outnumbered by the greying cohorts they are set to replace.

As highlighted in the last two census counts, B.C.’s population aged 65 years and older is increasing, while the number of prime working-age people is trending downward.

The government’s projections indicate that half of job openings through 2028 will be taken by individuals entering the workforce for the first time. Another 15 per cent will be filled by other British Columbians not presently in the labour force.

The assumption underlying this prediction is that in an environment of steady labour demand and higher wages, more people will be drawn to work.

The remaining one-third of future job openings will be filled through interprovincial migration (eight per cent) and international immigration (27 per cent).

Skilled workers in high demand

The labour market outlook shows varied patterns of job vacancies across industry sectors and occupations.

By industry, health care is poised for the fastest employment growth, followed by professional, scientific and technical services. Taken together, these two sectors account for more than a quarter of all job vacancies between 2018 and 2028.

Other industries expected to exhibit relatively strong labour demand include retail trade, accommodation and foodservices, and financial services.

Three-quarters of future job openings will require applicants with some form of post-secondary education or training – a degree, a diploma, an apprenticeship, or a technical qualification. This speaks to the rising demand for skills. But it is also a sign of “credential creep,” as many jobs that previously didn’t require post-secondary qualifications now do.

The labour market forecast suggests young adults should prepare not for a specific job-for-life, but instead for a world that rewards transferable skills, technical knowledge, and adaptable competencies.

The list of skills in demand illustrates employers’ quest for talent that complements increasingly automated processes and adds value where machines can’t do it all: complex problem-solving, creativity, people management, collaborating with others, communications skills, and leadership ability.

At the same time, there will also be employment opportunities for people with a “human touch,” e.g., health care assistants and those who care for seniors.

Below is a list of high-demand occupations that require some form of post-secondary education or training, coupled with a combination of some of the key skills noted above. The numbers cited are the projected job openings through 2028.

READ MORE: Health care, scientific jobs top B.C. employment forecast

Occupation

Projected job openings to 2028

Registered nurses

47,396

Health care assistants

34,717

Retail and wholesale trade managers

20,600

Administrative officers

17,100

Financial auditors/accountants

10,800

Accounting technicians/bookkeepers

10,600

Elementary/kindergarten teachers

10,100

Licensed practical nurses

9,612

Early childhood educators

8,900

Information system analysts

8,700

Computer programmers

8,000

Automotive service technicians

6,400

General practitioners/family physicians

6,218

College instructors

6,300

Lawyers

5,400

Software engineers/designers

4,800

Computer/information systems managers

4,800

Facility operating/maintenance managers

4,800

The job market and economy are already feeling the effects of demographic change.

While the existing workforce possesses a high level of skill compared to preceding generations, there are not enough workers to meet anticipated demand across the mix of high-growth occupations.

Even now, employers are struggling to staff front-line jobs in sectors like retail, business services and transportation.

Access to labour is a concern in every B.C. industry. It is destined to become an even bigger preoccupation for employers in the coming decade.

Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of British Columbia.

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