Within the next two years, the B.C. work force will undergo an invisible shift, when the pool of younger workers becomes smaller than the number of aging workers who have their eye on retirement.
If the labour analysts are correct, 2016 is the point when the real trouble starts. There are regions of the province where recruitment and retention is a challenge now – but just wait until the retirement-aged segment of the work force outnumbers new entrants.
B.C. Jobs Minister Shirley Bond recently came across this detail in her campaign to retool her government's skills-training programs. The skills-training blueprint launched this spring was written in response to the potential choke-point for a new liquefied natural gas industry, as investors worry that B.C. won't be able to supply enough workers to build proposed LNG plants and related infrastructure.
"Here's the challenge: We have a convergence of an aging demographic and new opportunities for growth," Ms. Bond said in an interview.
Over the next 10 weeks, The Globe and Mail will look at the top-ranked skilled jobs that the province expects will be most in demand. It is a wide-ranging list, from early childhood educators to truck drivers, and the figures will likely shift over time as new opportunities develop, or drop off.
Part of our series on the future of jobs in British Columbia. Introduction: Skills-training program aims to curtail a coming jobs crisis
Check back every Monday this summer as we look into each job's increasing role in the B.C. labour market.
Recent employment levels for B.C.'s growing job types
SOURCE: Census 2006, National Household Survey 2011
At the heart of the government's new skills-training blueprint is labour-market data. Ms. Bond has promised to overhaul the education system, from grade school to post secondary, to encourage new entrants to the B.C market to match up with the skills that are most in need.
British Columbia is shifting hundreds of millions in education dollars to force colleges and universities to produce skilled tradespeople for an expected construction boom over the next decade.
While the government wants to assure potential LNG investors that it can supply enough workers, there are also dozens of other major industrial projects on the books, mostly in B.C.'s north, that are driving fears of a skilled-labour shortage.
The province expects there will be 38,500 job openings in the north over the next decade. In addition, if five LNG projects go ahead – as the government hopes – there would be 5,500 new jobs in the gas fields in the northeast, 14,700 construction jobs for building LNG plants in the northwest, and 11,400 construction jobs for pipelines that will span the north.
Part of the challenge is persuading young workers to consider a trades career, but there is another change that needs to happen, as well. Many of the new jobs will not be within the comforts of major urban centres.
"It is one of the most challenging things we face," Ms. Bond said. "How do you induce people to think about locating where jobs are available? It's not up to government alone, we have to work with communities and industry to get people to think about a different lifestyle choice."
The most in-demand jobs requiring skills training are not limited to the trades, nor just in the north. The greatest number of job opportunities will be in nursing. Accountants and cooks make the list, too. Some are dangerous, some offer low pay – the government is looking at offering training and relocation incentives to help steer career choices.
The province says it can now forecast which trades will be most in demand in each of the next 10 years as the projects are expected to ramp up. But to shift resources and re-engineer the education system on the basis of labour-market predictions, Ms. Bond needs to be sure her numbers are reliable.
Ottawa has been hammered in recent months over flawed labour-market data, and earlier this month moved to restore some funding to its labour data – after complaints that it was producing erroneous job-vacancy statistics by relying on online job postings as one source of data. In May, the federal government was forced to restate its labour-market statistics after it eliminated data on websites, such as Kijiji, from its calculations.
Ms. Bond is boosting the resources for labour analysis, and has pointedly distanced her work from the federal figures.
"We are going to change the way we train, we are going to line that up with data. We can work on that," she said.