Taking action to fill B.C.’s labour demand

B.C. is experiencing a labour shortage and as our economy continues to grow so does labour demand. Businesses are increasingly finding it difficult to fill positions and find skilled labour, and shortages are expected to worsen due to the retirement of the baby boomer generation. The province, employers, and post-secondary institutions will need to work together and implement long-term strategies to meet the needs of B.C.’s economy now and into the future.

According to the recent BC Check-Up report by the Chartered Professional Accountants of British Columbia (CPABC), 2017 marked the fourth consecutive year of solid economic expansion in B.C., with a GDP growth rate of 3.9 per cent. Employment demand also grew at a similar pace, at 3.7 per cent, and B.C.’s labour market grew by 87,300 new jobs, bringing total employment to 2.5 million.

In the 2018 CPABC Business Outlook Survey, 85 per cent of B.C. CPA respondents indicated that the ability to attract and retain skilled labour is a key hindrance to business success. Looking ahead, in the latest edition of WorkBC’s B.C.’s Labour Market Outlook, the province is forecasting that there will be 903,000 job openings between now and 2028 to fill roles vacated by retirees, as well as new positions.

Labour shortages are worsened when the skills of the workforce do not match the needs of employers.

Talent shortages were also identified as a problem by CPAs, and three-quarters of Business Outlook Survey respondents said their business had challenges finding employees with the right skills. According to a Conference Board of Canada report, this can also cost the provincial government billions of dollars in foregone GDP and millions in tax revenue. When employers are not able to recruit skilled talent it lowers business productivity and places a higher reliance on existing staff to do the work, which could affect business revenue and staff retention.

For B.C.’s economy to grow sustainability its workforce needs to be versatile and have the skills that employers require, both in the short and long-term. This involves ongoing collaboration between employers, post-secondary institutions, and government. We need to look at equipping people with not only job-specific skills, but also soft skills like communication, critical thinking, and team work.

The needs of employers are shifting at a more rapid pace than ever and post-secondary students, including those who have gone back to change careers and re-skill, need the opportunity to gain on-the-job experience to hone skills critical to their career development. In our budget recommendations to the provincial government for the upcoming fiscal year, we asked the government to make work-integrated learning, such as co-op, a mandatory component of post-secondary education and to work with post-secondary institutions and industry to explore innovative approaches that would create a broader-range of opportunities for students.

While it’s difficult to predict what the future labour force will look like, developing soft skills are critical and crucial in a world of shifting labour demands and technological change. Increasing our efforts in helping people develop these types of skills, as well as ensuring new graduates have the technical knowledge they need to hit the ground running, will set future generations up for success.

Lori Mathison, FCPA, FCGA, LLB is the president and CEO of the Chartered Professional Accountants of British Columbia (CPABC). CPABC’s public affairs publications can be found at bccpa.ca.

Previously published on CPABC’s IndustryUpdate.ca

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