Opinion

Muskens: Skilled workers needed

Last week the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission released a report where they surveyed 882 valley employers to identify the labour issues we will be facing in the Okanagan in the next five years.

The report looked at labour supply and demand, recruiting and retaining employees, training needs, and other issues.

The results showed many employers, 64.6 per cent of those surveyed, expect to hire more people between now and 2020 and see this as one of their biggest challenges. They expect our labour force to grow by 18.5 per cent to meet economic growth and offset jobs vacated by retiring workers and those leaving the area.

This challenge focused on not having the right pool of workers locally to fill the positions they require. It is anticipated that of the job vacancies, 43.5 per cent will require a college credential and 20.9 per cent will require a university education, making the positions potentially hard to fill.

Given that 47 per cent of our current residents only have a high school diploma many employers will need to look outside of the region to recruit new staff.

Along with this, provincial level projections expect one million job openings in B.C. between 2010 and 2020. Many of these, approximately 65 per cent, will be due to retirement and other factors where people either move away or opt out of the workforce. There is a growing concern that if we continue with the same level of college and university graduates and the same level of in-migration, 18,800 jobs that require a post-secondary education will go unfilled in B.C.

This tells us that there is clearly a skills/education deficit and although we might have workers we may not have the right people for the available jobs. Right now B.C. is ranked eighth in Canada in granting degrees. Our province produces 27.7 engineers per 100,000 residents, where the Canadian average is 46.1.

Although Okanagan College and UBC Okanagan play a significant role in the education and training of our residents, we rely on the government to fund our programs and have limited capacity to add new programs and extra seats.

As for in-migration, although many people are attracted to the Valley, wages tend to be higher in Alberta and northern B.C., leading many workers into these areas.

Focusing on strategies to encourage our high school graduates to transition into post-secondary education and to remain in the Valley once they graduate should be explored.

Another option is to look at adults who are underemployed and find ways for them to re-train. This can be difficult for those with financial commitments and who may require upgrading.

I have worked at Okanagan College for 20 years and every year I see more adults over 40, returning to school. Through time this will become the new normal and, as far as I’m concerned, you are never too old to learn.

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