By Korie Marshall
A study released last week reveals some labour market challenges, especially in the Robson Valley area. The study’s authors say it shows a need for a coordinated, region-wide plan to deal with a potential shortage of workers in the entire Kamloops region, especially the McBride to Barriere corridor.
In 2013, Venture Kamloops did a survey on business retention and expansion, and found that all businesses they talked to had problems finding skilled labour. Business owners were especially concerned that they’d lose many employees if a proposed mine in the area was approved, says Colin O’Leary, manager for Business Retention and Expansion with Venture Kamloops, a non-profit organization aimed at supporting local businesses in the Kamloops area.
O’Leary says what they heard was anecdotal, but revealed an urgent need for labour market data – they needed quantifiable numbers, and needed to sift through the conflicting information they were hearing. But they couldn’t find data for Kamloops, only for the Thompson-Okanagan region, and smaller communities like McBride and Valemount would have an even harder time finding data. And very early on, they realized the workforce Kamloops taps into is mobile, often working and moving throughout the region, not just in the city. Venture Kamloops is meant to serve the city, but they realized they were going to need to take a regional approach to this question.
So with a $117,000 grant from the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation and $90,000 of private investment they started a labour market study with three goals: see what the labour market supply and demand is right now; project it for the next 10 years; and make some
suggestions about how to address the issues.
The research firm R.A. Malatest and Associates won the contract to do the year-long study. Their full report was released on Friday Oct. 30th, containing information from the Stats Canada labour force survey, 2011 census data, a new in-depth survey of regional employers, including 113 responses from employers in the north region (the McBride to Barriere corridor including Valemount and Blue River), and in-depth information and perspective from some key people like human resources managers at large employers.
Robert Malatest and Michelle Riddle presented some of the high-level findings to a small group in Valemount on Thursday, part of a series of meetings throughout the region before the official release of the study. Riddle says they expect a 0.6 annual growth rate in the need for workers in the north, and an overall 1.1 growth rate in the whole study region. That may not seem like much, but together with filling existing vacancies and replacing retirees and other workers who leave the work force for various reasons, it is going to mean replacing one-third of the workforce – nearly 35,000 new hires in the region – over the next 10 years. And that is not taking into account potential developments that have not yet been approved.
The study found a high vacancy and high turnover in the north region. It’s double what the turnover and vacancy is in the Okanagan, so it is not simply a tourism industry effect, says Malatest.
The numbers show a gap between available and needed workers, including a gap in the availability of skilled workers. Riddle says the need for more education is going to continue and increase, and the shortage is going to be more pronounced in small communities. Trades persons and engineers are the most pronounced need, but there is also a need for health care workers, hospitality and tourism workers and clerical staff.
Malatest says there is a 10.6 per cent turn over every year in the whole area, but it is 12-13 per cent in the McBride to Barriere corridor. That means 4000 workers will be needed in the corridor in the next 10 years, and we currently have a supply of only 3000. And of that, there is currently 1000 unemployed, likely because of a skills mis-match. His two main recommendations are that a training strategy is required beyond just training programs, and that a regional workforce strategy should be implemented.
Four key points of the “Regional Workforce Strategy” recommendation are: continue to build formal groups and committees to oversee human resource issues in the region; economic development strategies should continue to be developed at a regional level; consider targeted recruitment and attraction strategies and collect labour market data on an annual basis.
Six key points of the recommendation for “Training Programming and Strategise to Address Skills Shortages” are: develop a regional labour force training committee; develop an employer training program to assist in business growth and planning; focus on increasing basic skills training and prepare the unemployed for skills upgrading; support efforts to establish a regional engineering post-secondary program; expand trades training including in smaller communities (with blended training models) where possible; and include basic workplace and word processing skills training in post secondary programs.
Malatest says we in the north area might really want to look at why we have such a high turnover and vacancy, and what we can do to address the issues. He says the province recently did a study on what would attract skilled workers to move to the northwest of BC, and that might reveal some useful things for Valemount.
Jim Anderson, Executive Director of Venture Kamloops, says they don’t have the resources to do it on their own, but they are interested in collaborating on a regional level. “Don’t let this be a report that just sits on a shelf somewhere, we would really like to see something be done with it.”
This isn’t something that can be taken on just by one organization, says Malatest. He says there will need to be input and commitment from governments, and he says businesses also have to recognize they have some issues they will need to deal with. It’s not just a training strategy that is needed, it’s a major succession plan.
Labour Market Partnerships help local employers, employee and employer associations, and communities develop ways to deal with worker shortages or changes in the job market so they can prepare for the future, says a news release from the Ministry. Labour Market Partnerships were introduced in 2012 as part of the Employment Program of BC’s Community and Employer Partnerships fund. The fund is for projects that share labour market information and increase employability throughout the province. Other partners on this study include the BC Lottery Corporation, Community Futures – Thompson Country, Domtar, Thompson Rivers University, Thompson-Nicola Regional District, KGHM International, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc and Kinder Morgan.
The full study can be viewed at http://venturekamloops.com/vk-kamloops-labour-market-study/