Labour demand and high unemployment in the northwest

There is an interesting situation forming in the northwest when it comes to the labour market.

There is an interesting situation forming in the northwest when it comes to the labour market.

As you can see from the story on the front page, businesses are looking for skilled workers, particularly in the trades area. In fact some industries are becoming desperate for skilled workers as major projects move forward, and the need for skilled labour is only going to grow as more and more eyes look to the northwest as a gateway to the Asia Pacific. At the moment I can rattle off a list of major projects that would need a significant workforce of trades people to move from construction to operation – the Kitimat Modernization, the construction of the Pinnacle Pellet Terminal, any of the five LNG plants proposed for either Kitimat or Prince Rupert, expansion of Fairview Terminal expected in the not-too-distant future, the Enbridge and Spectra pipelines and the oil refinery proposed by David Black.  When you look at just how many workers would be needed to construct even a few of these projects and what it could mean for the economy and growth of the region, it somewhat boggles the mind.

Contrasting the need for skilled labour is the BC government’s own employment data. According to the last release related to jobs in the province, the northwest has the highest unemployment in all of BC and is the only region to be in the midst of double-digits at 11.9 per cent. Granted that number covers a region from Vanderhoof to Haida Gwaii, but double digit unemployment can never be a good thing.

So on one hand you have a need for skilled labour – the need for which extends beyond construction and industry to some of the service and commercial businesses in the region – and on the other hand you have the highest unemployment rate in the province. Minister Pat Bell, during the last conference call on the matter, said he too was unsure how the boom in the northwest goes hand in hand with high unemployment.

If there’s something to take from this, it’s that there isn’t a shortage of available workers, there’s a shortage of trained available workers. If the government is looking for a way to solve the unemployment rate and ensure developers can meet their labour needs, training for those out of work to fill the positions needed must be made more readily available.