Newcomers to fill one-third of B.C. job openings by 2020
Feds looking to change immigration rules
A substantial labour shortage is likely to hinder economic growth in B.C., unless the province can attract a lot more workers in the next 10 years, provincial data show.
By 2020, there will be 61,500 more jobs in the province than people to fill them, according to B.C.’s most recent Labour Market Outlook, and that has the province relying on newcomers to B.C. to fill a third of all job openings within a decade.
The shortage will hit well before that in the skilled trades, a major driver of economic growth in the province. Demand for skilled trades workers is expected to outstrip supply by 2016, largely due to the wave of retiring baby boomers who can’t be replaced overnight, said Wayne Tebb, dean of trades and technology at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.
“There is a tremendous need and it hasn’t even really hit yet.”
The federal government announced earlier this week it intends to respond to this trend — which is not unique to B.C. — by changing the immigration rules to recognize skilled trades under the points system for selecting immigrants. This would alter the focus of existing immigration criteria that gives preference to university-educated migrants such as engineers and doctors.
One Surrey-based builder said he supports the government’s move to bring in more skilled trades workers from abroad, although it is unlikely to help him find the workers he needs. Gary Friend, president of South Ridge Developments, said Ottawa uses criteria that doesn’t recognize some of the trades unique to residential construction, which he has the most urgent need for.
There have been very few additions to the federal government’s Red Seal program — a list of interprovincial standards for tradespeople — in the last five decades, he said.
“With all the different materials today and all the rapidly changing technologies, how we build residential homes has greatly changed from 50 years ago.”
Friend added that some of these changes — such as the need for a building envelope, which affects the way windows and doors are constructed — are unique to B.C. and therefore not represented in the national criteria.
The federal points system for admitting immigrants also gives preference to people who are bilingual in English and French, something that keeps a lot of people with needed skills out of the country, Friend said.
“I’ve got people who have been here forever that hardly speak English and they’ve worked for me for 30 years and I couldn’t live without them,” he said. “A carpenter or a worker on a construction job site, as long as they have a common command of English language so they can be safe on the job, they don’t need to be bilingual to do their job.”
Friend said he would like to see provincial rather than federal criteria used to select skilled trades immigrants and the language requirement be suited to the job the immigrant is applying for.
Jan Noster, president of the Construction, Maintenance and Allied Workers Union, said he has mixed feelings about bringing in immigrants to fill skilled trades positions.
Noster’s own great-grandfather came from Poland as an immigrant tradesman, and he knows the statistics predict it will be impossible to fill the labour gap locally.
But in some cases, he cautioned, the labour shortage has more to do with a disconnection between skilled workers and available job openings within Canada.
“We’ll spend a lot of money on immigration, we’ll take people out of economies where … they’re needed … but we won’t help 20 [unemployed] guys get off the Charlottes [Haida Gwaii] to go to a job in Fort McMurray, where there actually is work for them,” he said.
Canada also needs to do a better job of recruiting women, young people and first nations into the trades, Noster said.
“Look at first nations in Canada. I mean, there’s huge poverty on reserves across Canada. There’s a lot of good jobs in trades and … we’ve got to do a lot more there.”
Pat Bell, B.C.’s minister of jobs, tourism and innovation said addressing first nations unemployment is a priority for the government.
B.C. is also looking to encourage under-skilled workers, who perhaps did not complete high school, to enter the trades. It also plans to recruit migrants from other provinces to fill the skilled trades shortage before turning to immigrants from overseas, he said.