Roslyn KuninThe B.C. job market is booming. Just ask any of the 11,200 additional people who were employed in January over the month before.

But there is still untapped potential for greater job growth.

Year over year, employment in British Columbia has been growing at an impressive 3.5 percent. Canada as a whole saw a respectable but more modest increase of 1.5 percent.

Unemployment in B.C. has fallen to 5.6 percent in spite of a growing population and a rising share of that population entering the labour force. The national unemployment rate is 6.8 percent.

That’s good news. What’s not such good news for B.C. and Canada is the growing mismatch between those Canadians who are still out of work and the vacancies that many employers desperately seek to fill.

Andrew Harries, co-founder of the successful tech company Sierra Wireless and now a professor of entrepreneurship at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business, speaks for these employers, particularly those in the tech sector.

According to Harries, the tech sector is very important to B.C. and its ongoing prosperity. It employs 92,000 people and generates $25 billion in revenue. The sector’s six percent growth rate is well above the overall provincial average and makes up seven percent of the gross provincial product. This looks good until you compare B.C. to Washington State, our neighbour to the south where tech represents 22 percent of output.

We need to do better.

Unfortunately, the limiting factor in the growth of the B.C. tech sector is not financial capital, it’s talent. Although B.C. turns out many well-qualified technical people, there are not nearly enough of those or of the entrepreneurial, managerial and business types who can create, run and maintain world-class tech companies.

Harries offers three solutions:

  • Double the capacity for computer science students in our post-secondary schools.
  • Since that is a longer term solution, expedite visas for skilled workers to come into Canada.
  • Deal with the high cost of housing in the Vancouver area to attract and keep the kind of talent needed. We can’t forget that such talent has many employment options elsewhere.

Another alternative to improving the mismatch between open jobs and people who need work is suggested in a recently-released Canada West Foundation report, Matchup: A Case for Pan-Canadian Competency Frameworks, by Janet Lane and Jeff Griffiths. They note that there are 400,000 unfilled jobs in Canada in spite of the fact that 1.32 million Canadians are looking for work.

They suggest four reasons for this huge and damaging imbalance:

  • Our educational and apprenticeship systems don’t equip participants with the skills and competencies that employers need at the level required.
  • Employers may not be aware of the varied and specific skills people have. Indeed, the people themselves may not realize all they can do, especially if such abilities are not covered by formal credentials.
  • Employers may not be able to define and may not even know what competencies are needed in any position.
  • Foreign credentials, which are otherwise adequate in terms of skills and competencies, are not recognized.

The solution suggested in this report is a competency-based, pan-Canadian qualifications framework to help eliminate any apparent mismatches. That approach is being used in Europe and other areas, and is endorsed by the International Labour Organization.

Combining such a framework and some of Harries’ ideas could help the Canadian labour market do as well as B.C.’s and help B.C. do even better.

Troy Media columnist Roslyn Kunin is a consulting economist and speaker. 

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