“If the regional labour force is not ready for employment when industry is ready to hire, industry will be forced to bring the majority of workers from outside of the region.” (BC Natural Gas Workforce Strategy Committee. BC Natural Gas Workforce Strategy and Action Plan, July 2013, p. 29)

“Aboriginal people have lower scores in literacy and numeracy than the non-Aboriginal people.” (Minister of Industry. Skills in Canada: First Results from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). Catalogue no. 89-555-X. Minister of Industry, 2013, p. 43)

The Jobs Potential for British Columbians

Over the next decade, BC’s northern region will become a job-creating machine, particularly from the construction and operation of many major resource-based projects.

Liquefied natural gas (LNG), oil and gas production, mining and mineral exploration, hydro-electrical;, and forestry projects all will generate thousands of new job openings in the Northwest, Northeast and Nechako regions of BC.

Over the next decade, proposed LNG export facilities, LNG-related pipelines, LNG-related natural gas production increases, and support services for LNG projects are projected to create 135,000 jobs. These do not include new job openings from the other BC resource sectors in the north. For example, the Mining Industry Human Resources Council predicts its industry will produce 3,750 new job openings in northern BC by 2022.

For the BC Government, Grant Thornton LLP estimated:

  • 21,600 jobs will be directly involved in the building of LNG export facilities and associated pipelines at peak construction that is expected to occur in 2016-2017
  • 41,900 jobs will be created in the industries that supply goods and services during the construction phase at peak
  • 2,400 permanent jobs are required to operate and maintain the plants and pipelines on an ongoing basis
  • 61,700 jobs are required to support LNG operations including workers required to drill, produce, process and transport the natural gas required to feed the export facilities.

Northern development jobs will need to be filled from various sources, starting with local people:

–       Local high school and post-secondary graduates

–       Local unemployed and underemployed people

–       Local First Nations and Aboriginal peoples

–       Local new Canadians

–       British Columbians from other regions of the province including landed immigrants

–       Other Canadians

–       International migrants and temporary foreign workers

However, many of the people in local communities will need to complete their high school education and acquire basic literacy and essential skills in order to have an opportunity to benefit from these jobs.

The Kitimat Terrace Industrial Development Society calculates over $64 billion in potential major projects on the books in the vicinity of the Kitimat, Prince Rupert and Terrace area.

The tightening northern labour market is already showing up in declining unemployment rates. As the BC economy gradually recovers from the global recession, its unemployment rate has been declining, particularly in certain regions. In June 2013, the provincial unemployment rate was 6.4%, however this masks tighter labour markets in certain northern regions:

  • Prince George’s was 3.8% in June 2013 – the lowest in several years;
  • Northeast B.C.’s rate was 4.9%;
  • The Cariboo Region’s rate was 5.0% (down from 7.8% in June 2012);
  • The North Coast/Nechako rate was 6.7%, a little higher than the provincial average but the lowest in several years and almost a 50% reduction from 12.2% in June 2012.

The Labour Force Supply in Northern BC

Labour supply challenges in northern BC include the following:

  • Aging workforce
  • Declines in youth population and birth rates
  • Relative low education and literacy rates among the population and labour force, particularly among Aboriginal people who constitute 50% or more of many northern communities
  • Small local workforces
  • Negative perceptions of the industries and of the BC north
  • Mobility of skilled workers

There over 150,000 adults aged 25 to 54 in BC without a high school diploma and more than 600,000 adults with poor literacy skills. This presents our governments, our province and employers with serious challenges for moving forward on the BC Jobs Plan agenda and major projects, particularly in northern BC and among northern First Nations and non- First Nations people.

In May 2011, the employment rate for the population aged 25 to 64 was 75.3%. In general, employment rate increases with education level. The employment rate was 55.8% for those who had no high school certificate – a full 20 percentage points lower (Statistics Canada, National Household Survey, 2011).

For the 25-54 aged population in BC, 11.1% possessed no high school completion in 2011. The northern populations in the table range from 16.3% to 34.9%, as much as triple the provincial average. The northern average is double at 23.4%.

This “northern” gap is reflected across many indicators:

  • Almost 50% of 18 year olds in the BC north in 2008-2011 did not graduate, compared to 27.9% of the total BC 18-year old population.
  • Northern students had higher non-completion of provincial exams for mathematics, chemistry and English.
  • The percentage of students who were below standard on Grade 4 reading, writing and mathematics exams was double (36%) the provincial average of 18.9%.

The Bigger Picture

According to Ingenia Consulting in a report prepared for the BC Natural Gas Workforce Strategy Committee, “Employers will need to increase their outreach to and, recruitment and training of under-represented groups (e.g. women, immigrants, youth) and Aboriginal people through tailored programs, high school dual credit programs and supports such as mentorships, job coaches and role models.” (Labour Market Supply Side Environmental Scan – BC’s Natural Gas Sector. Prepared for the BC Natural Gas Workforce Strategy Committee. December 2012)

The Industry Training Authority (ITA) released a study in June 2012 on “Barriers and Successful Approaches to Preparing and Employing Aboriginal Trades People.” According to its report, the ITA identified “insufficient educational pre-requisites as the most common barrier to the trades among Aboriginal peoples.

Across BC, communities are facing significant changes to their labour force, including economic restructuring, shifting demograhics, immigration or migration of youth, educational attainment levels and population increases and declines. There are also strong causal relationships between community skill levels and the ability to attract, retain and grow its economy.  In this context, there is a need for workforce and economic development stakeholders to address issues and capitalize on opportunities at a local level in order to ensure a community’s long-term economic sustainability.

Bridging the Gap through Literacy and Essential Skills

In August 2011, the Centre for the Study of Living Standards (for the now-defunct BC Progress Board) identified four areas in which improvements would be likely to contribute to productivity growth in British Columbia (Centre for the Study of Living Standards. Human Capital and Productivity in British Columbia. Prepared for the BC Progress Board. August 2011):

  • The underutilization of the skills of recent immigrants;
  • The relatively poor educational outcomes of Aboriginal people;
  • The below-average production of advanced human capital through graduate training;
  • The problem of high school non-completion.

The educational outcomes of Aboriginal people are poor relative to those of non-Aboriginals in Canada, and this education gap contributes to a severe labour market outcomes gap. While British Columbia performs better than average in this respect, the outcomes gaps for Aboriginals in the province are still unacceptably large. Hard work by Aboriginal students and the many people that support them is paying off. However, from my perspective, what is still missing is ongoing, consistent, rigorous analysis to identify what is helping Aboriginal students improve their education outcomes in successful districts and what barriers remain in other districts.

High school non-completers face significant economic challenges and contribute less to the economy on average than they would if they had completed high school.  According to Labour Force Survey data, over half of those who do not complete their K-12 education in six years from the grade eight starting point either get a certificate through their own effort, take a little longer to complete in the public system or find another path to completion. This still leaves a large number of young people with poor employment prospects.

Currently in BC over 350 adult literacy programs are responding to local problems of mismatch between individual literacy and essential skill competencies for successful high school completion, post secondary education certification and job opportunities in the province.

BC’s provincial literacy organization, Decoda Literacy Solutions works with communities to strengthen formal and non-formal learning sector partnerships across the province. BC’s community-based literacy network is made up of 102 literacy task groups representing more than 400 communities. Members of these task groups are stakeholders from literacy organizations, social services, employment agencies, education, health, libraries, the justice system, and others. Each task group examines the specific literacy needs of its community, identifies gaps in service, and works together to find collaborative solutions to maximize scarce resources. Each task group employs a literacy outreach coordinator, who facilitates and coordinates local literacy initiatives and partnerships.

How to create the conditions necessary for jobs, growth and investment

  1. Invest in community economic development approaches that include literacy and learning strategies.
  2. Invest in the literacy and essential skills development of Aboriginal peoples, particularly in northern regions of the province in which this population has relatively low literacy levels yet relatively high employment opportunities from major projects.
  3. Invest in the literacy and essential skills development of landed and new immigrants who are attracted and recruited to the northern regions of BC.
  4. Formalize learner pathways where community adult literacy and essential skills programs work to engage and tutor learners to achieve literacy and essential skills benchmark credentials.
  5. Invest in the production of better information about the personal and family characteristics of high school drop-outs in British Columbia, as well as evidence on the school- and district-level factors associated with non-completion.
  6. Support the BC community network and literacy organizations, as they are able to respond to specific local training needs and knowledge gaps, thereby increasing skills and productivity for BC as a whole.
  7. Jointly create and commit to a long-term literacy and learning strategy for BC to ensure that business and industry have the skilled workers needed for growth and innovation for decades to come.

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