Labour shortage looming in next decade

The Kootenays will suffer a labour shortage in the next 10 years, according to the executive director of the Industry Trades Authority.

The Kootenay region will be hit with a labour shortage in the next 10 years as the economy grows and people begin to exit the workforce, according to the executive director of the Industry Trades Authority.

Kevin Evans said the absolute employment decline of the last 10 years will be replaced with overall growth of 1.1 per cent — with trades growth accounting for .8 per cent, or 640 jobs, of the gain.

It’s no gold rush, said Evans, but it is a piece of positive news for those looking for work, but not so great for those looking to hire in the coming years.

In fact, the situation is expected to become dire in the next few years as employers grapple with how to fill those skilled trades positions as baby boomers retire and the economy creates new jobs, he said.

“The Kootenays could begin to see labour shortages as soon as 2014, but it will be more significant for 2017 when the forecast is for a shortfall of 2,000 people,” said Evans.

Between 2010 and 2019 an estimated 4,260 job openings are forecast, with trades employment accounting for 15 per cent of overall employment in the Kootenay region by 2020.

Heavy equipment operators, (730 job openings, or 17.25 per cent of the regional demand), machinery and transportation equipment mechanics (630 job openings, 14.9 per cent of the regional demand) and carpenters and cabinet makers (610 job openings, 14.5 per cent of the regional demand) are the top three trades that will be in demand, said Evans.

However, for one third of the jobs Kootenay people will be hired for in 2020, are unknown because people now can’t imagine what skills will be required in 10 years as technology changes and globalization, plus the need to be productive with fewer people, morphs the face of the workforce.

“But we’ve got a fairly good sense of the magnitude of the shortages and where they are going to be, now it is a question of ensuring we are training or importing people to meet those needs,” he said.

The preferred policy is to train local, young people to ensure those jobs are available to them. Drawing upon Selkirk College and College of the Rockies and their respective trades programs, the province has allocated $4.2 million in funding for both schools for a combined 26 apprenticeship training programs.

There is a continual push for the hiring of new apprentices by United Steelworkers Union Local 480 at Teck, said president Doug Jones, especially as the age group has risen over a number of years here.

“They need to make sure they are gathering all of the experience from the old guys that are going to be leaving, and getting that through to the young apprentices,” he said.

Those tradesmen preparing to retire now were part of a very successful crop of apprentices that came on board 30 years ago.

He didn’t feel there was an immediate shortage of skilled workers, considering the number of people inquiring about jobs through the union at Teck. But looking further down the road, he felt there could be a shortage.

The first step to meeting the shortage is apprenticeship, said Evans, and where the attention has to be focused right now is creating those work-based training opportunities.

During a recession, apprentices are the first to be laid off, and they are the last to be hired when things turn around. It takes about a full decade to get back to those pre-recession employment numbers for apprentices, he noted.

“Considering it is a four-year cycle for training those apprentices, we really need to be hiring those people now,” Evans said. “We have to get the message out to employers that they need to invest in training.”

Apprenticeship training consists of post-secondary education that combines paid, work-based training (about 80 per cent of training), with technical training in a classroom or shop setting (about 20 per cent of training).

Successful completion of both components, along with examinations, is required to earn a certificate or “ticket,” and become a certified tradesperson.

The length of an apprenticeship can range from one to five years, but most require four years to complete. ITA funds 15 public post-secondary institutions and 24 private training institutions to deliver in-school technical training.

Training the next generation of trades people is not an act of charity or philanthropy, Evans explained, it is an act of survival.

“If you are going to have the workers you need, you have to invest in them,” Evans said. “It’s not going to work poaching them anymore, relying on your neighbour to train up apprentices and then hiring them away.”

Currently, there is a low awareness of the value of apprentices for small and medium-sized employers and some misconceptions and myths of apprenticeship — for every dollar an employer invests in an apprentice, they are going to be getting $1.47 back.

There are also a number of generous tax credits at the federal and provincial level, as well as tax credits for tools for those apprentices who complete their school.

“There is a concern in the Kootenays with people having the right training, and it’s not just the entry level jobs, there is also a concern about supervisory positions,” he said.

And those positions arise in a training culture.

“If we don’t as a province and as a culture embrace what it means to have a training culture — that all of us are investing in one way or another in ongoing training — that if we don’t have that training culture we are not going to maximize that opportunity that the next decade holds — and if we can get that right, we’ll have the competitive advantage,” Evans said.

The ITA is a provincial Crown agency that is responsible for managing and expanding B.C.’s industry training and apprenticeship system.