The reports are usually optimistic.
In recent years B.C. has performed better than other provinces, economically speaking.
But what about the future?
As young British Columbians make decisions about their future, and what sectors should they be looking to?
Strength in diversity
B.C.’s economic success as of late is not a fluke.
Canada’s economy, as a whole, has been hurting, largely due to tumbling oil prices.
It’s having a harsh impact on our neighbour Alberta.
But Jock Finlayson with the Business Council of BC says this province is not having that problem.
“We have a very diversified industrial base here, we don’t produce very much oil, in particular. We seem to be holding up well at a time when our economy, nationally, is growing at 1% a year, we’re probably closer to 2.5 or even 3% a year, so that’s pretty good. We are leading Canada in job growth in 2015, and we think that will continue to be the case in 2016 as well.”
The Conference Board of Canada’s Marie-Christine Bernard agrees.
A diversified economy is important, and says B.C.’s happens to be balanced between creating goods and providing services.
She says the provinces that lean too heavily on one side of that equation, can get into trouble.
“The industries that are going through difficulty right now are the oil sector, the mining sector is also going through a difficult period – like metal mining, minerals. So when a larger portion of your economy is geared towards those sectors, these provinces are going through a much more difficult time than those provinces that are not so geared towards the resource sector.”
And so in B.C.’s case, despite mining being an economic contributor, all of our eggs aren’t in one basket, and that helps.
So, what about the future?
What sectors are expected to be hiring in the years to come?
Finlayson says a key source of jobs is NOT going to come from economic growth, but actually from replacements for people leaving the workforce, especially for retirement.
“We are in a period where the front end of the baby boom generation has started to retire in growing numbers. Some older workers are remaining in the workforce, but most when they hit 62, 63, or 64 do retire — at least from full-time work. So, that is creating more vacancies, and we expect that will accelerate over the next two years. Probably two-thirds of all the jobs openings for people in British Columbia over the next ten years will be replacement positions.”
And what areas will see the most retirements?
Finlayson says the public sector workforce is older than the private sector, and that means job openings in government administration, police, fire, and post-secondary education.
But Marie-Christine Bernard with the Conference Board of Canada says there’s one public sector employer that will likely see the largest growth…
“Health care, because the aging of the population that will be growing twice as fast as the employment growth for all industries.”
And it’s not just the aging workers, but also increased demand for service.
An aging population means more people will be accessing health care services.
What about areas where actual economic growth is expected?
Sectors like high tech, finance and real estate are predicting expansions….
But there is one area that has received a LOT of attention….
And that’s liquefied natural gas.
The province promoted LNG heavily during the last provincial election, with the promise of economic growth, thousands of jobs, and billions for B.C.’s economy.
But so far, the Business Council of BC’s Finlayson says that hasn’t turned out to be reality.
“So far it’s proven to be tough slog. Global energy markets are in a slump, and the whole process of getting companies to commit to moving forward with LNG facilities has been much slower than people expected. We still think there’s a chance, a reasonable chance that one or two major projects could get over the finish line.”
And the Conference Board of Canada agrees.
“I guess there’s still a lot of uncertainty as to whether there will be development of the LNG industry, but we’ve included in our forecast the development of one large terminal. So, you’ll have a lot of growth coming from the resource sector.”
But Marie-Christine Bernard acknowledges, it’s a gamble. They put together their forecasts last year, and so much has changed already in that short period of time…with the price of natural gas dropping significantly.
That said, there’s a reason so many are hoping the gamble pays off.
“That’s going to create a significant demand for construction workers in a variety of skilled trades, as well as project managers in engineering and various kinds of support jobs. We’d be looking at tens of thousands of person years of additional work in the construction business if a couple of these LNG projects go ahead, and some employment to actually operate the LNG facilities. And some additional job creation in the upstream natural gas business in Northern B.C., to actually supply the gas, the raw material to allow LNG facilities to operate.”
So, will BC have enough workers to fulfill the jobs that are expected to open up over the next decade or so?
It’s really hard to predict.
Think back just a decade, when B.C. workers were turning to Alberta for employment.
Workers are coming the other way, now that the oil industry is suffering.
Most don’t see a dramatic uptick on the global oil market anytime soon, so while that certainly doesn’t bode well for Canada’s economy as a whole, it does mean a valuable source of skilled workers waiting for jobs to take.