British Columbia

Skilled labour shortage could cost B.C. billions, report says

A new report from the Conference Board of Canada says B.C. will lose out because there won't be enough skilled workers in the province.

Conference Board of Canada estimates shortage of 514,000 skilled workers in B.C. within a decade

The report recommends post secondary institutions do a better job of communicating with employers about skills needed in the workplace. (Getty Images)

A new report by the Conference Board of Canada says British Columbia could lose up to $7.9 billion in GDP annually because it does not have the skilled labour to replace an aging workforce in a changing economy.

In B.C. approximately 70 per cent of all jobs are held by people with post secondary education, the report stated, and that number is expected to go up to 77 per cent by 2025.

Senior researcher Matthew McKean said B.C.'s post secondary system faces a daunting task educating enough students to maintain this level of growth. At the current rate, he estimated a potential shortfall of 514,000 skilled workers in the province within the next 10 years.

"The number of immigrants and the number of people transferring into B.C. aren't going to be enough to close that shortfall," McKean said.

Instead, he recommended targeting groups of students — Indigenous students, students with disabilities, and students from lower economic backgrounds — who are underrepresented at post secondary institutions.

Mismatch between skills taught and skills needed?

Another issue is the type of training students receive at post secondary institutions might not match up with what employers want.

"It's not always a mismatch as much as it's a miscommunication around what employers need," McKean explained. "Employers need better channels to communicate what they need to post secondary educational institions."

University of Victoria president Jamie Cassels said his university is doing its best to communicate with employers and offer students a number of programs, particularly experiential learning.

"This creates workplace opportunities for students which connects what they learn in the classroom to the workplace, to have a hands-on experience so that they can begin to develop those skills and they can continue to see a career future for themselves," he explained.              

Cassels said around 60 per cent of students at UVic have some sort of co-op or work-integrated experience like an internship.

"We'd like to get to a point where every student has that opportunity and employers really value that," he said.

The report makes several recommendations to the government as well. They include funding programs that meet labour market needs and providing better labour market information to identify which skills are needed.

With files from The Early Edition

To listen to the interview, click on the link labelled UVic president Jamie Cassels on how the university is addressing the skills gap