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British Columbia's economic boom brings labour challenges

By CO Staff @canadaone |

As British Columbia's economy rebounds sharply from its economic slump, labour shortages have become a key problem according to "The West Coast boom", a study published in Canadian Economic Observer. The province's employment rate is at a record low and with Alberta's economy booming as well the province faces difficulties in attracting workers to its more remote areas.

In order to meet growth demands the province will need to either attract new workers, use existing workers more efficiently or bring more people into the workforce.

Concerns over labour shortages were echoed by RBC's president and chief executive officer, Gordon Nixon.

"Demographically, you can see where this is going," Nixon said. "There will be about one million job openings in B.C. in the next dozen years, and we don't have enough young British Columbians in the pipeline to fill these jobs. Immigration will play a vital role in filling the gap, so we must do
everything we can to help immigrants integrate into the work force so they can reach their potential."

"If Canada is to succeed in the global economy, we must ensure that the whole
country has a capable workforce," said Nixon. "And it's not just about skilled workers for
the construction and oil industries.... this is about leveraging human
resources in all areas of the economy."

BC's economy today

The forestry industry has slumped, but mining industries are up, with metals and coal doing particularly well. Infrastructure projects initiated to handle increased trade with Asia are boosting construction in the province. Projects to ready the province for the 2010 Olympics will also boost all areas of the provincial economy.

This economic rebound began in 2001 and was initiated by a rebound in the housing industry, which had a total increase of almost 80% since 2000, making it the fastest gain in Canada. As housing prices responded to the increased demand residential construction increased as well, rising 20% since 2000.

Then in 2003 investment spending took off, driven by rapidly increasing trade with China coupled with strong corporate profits. Investment spending has increased by $4 billion since 2003 and is expected to reach $17.8 billion this year.

The mining industry saw $1.6 billion in gains, reaching $4.0 billion in 2005. Investments are expected to drop to $3.5 billion in 2006, but investment in transportation and utilities is expected to even out this decrease.

Shipment of capital goods rose 33% between 2003 and 2005, resulting from the surge in construction in British Columbia. Growth in exports has been slow during the last five years, with both their composition and final destinations have changed significantly. In the 1990s the forestry products accounted for the bulk of the province's exports, while in the new millennium the export of other goods have exceeded forestry exports.

Similarly the US share of British Columbia's exports has fallen since 2001 from 70% to 64% while Asia exports rose from 20.5% to 24.0%. As a result British Columbia is five time more oriented towards trade with Asia than the rest of Canada and the province has a lower dependence than other provinces on trade with the US.

For more information on BC's economic outlook and labour conditions the study "The West Coast boom" is available for free from Statistics Canada.

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