Vernon’s workforce is aging quickly, and increased immigration could play a key role in balancing the city’s shifting demographics.
Vernon was featured in the federal government’s Immigration Matters series in the winter of 2020. It looks at communities across the country to highlight key labour market statistics and the role immigration plays — or could play — in a community’s growth.
The profile suggests pending challenges to Vernon’s workforce due to an aging population. Using data from the 2016 census, the report highlighted that 30 per cent of Vernon’s workers are over the age of 55, meaning some 9,600 workers are likely to retire in the next decade.
That’s a significant chunk of the city’s working population, and the percentage of 55-plus workers is starker when looking at specific key industries. Nearly half of all Vernon agriculture workers were 55 and older; 47 per cent in truck transportation; 41 per cent in wholesale trade; 37 per cent in nursing and residential care; 36 per cent in education; and 35 per cent in professional services.
“There are not enough young people coming through the education system to meet the demand of the current labour market, let alone provide the workforce for potential economic growth,” the report reads.
Vernon is among the older communities in B.C., according to Statistics Canada data. In 2018, the city had 176 people over the age of 60 for every 100 under the age of 20 and the median age was 49.5 in 2016 — well above provincial and national averages.
The Greater Vernon area (Vernon, Coldstream, North Okanagan areas B and C, Splatsin and Okanagan Indian Band) contains 65,300 people. Agriculture is an economic engine in the area, but recent years have seen construction, tourism and manufacturing expand.
The local agricultural industry’s reliance on temporary foreign workers was tested heavily by the COVID-19 pandemic this past year, as farmers in the Okanagan struggled to find workers in key harvesting months due to travel restrictions.
As outlined in Vernon council’s 2019-22 strategic plan, attracting skilled workers to the area is a main priority.
Vernon is part of the new Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot that was launched to help smaller communities attract and retain foreign skilled workers to meet their labour market needs.
“Every 100 new immigrant families with an average household income directly generate over $8 million worth of new household expenditures, (with) much of this spending in the local community,” the report states.
For more information on the Immigration Matters series, visit canada.ca/immigration-matters.