Skip to content

Workforce shortfalls top-of-mind at B.C. Economic Summit

Summit underway in Penticton against backdrop of labour shortages, concerns about rural health care
Economic development officers from across B.C. are meeting in Penticton May 6 to 9 at the BC Economic Summit. Representatives from industry, as well as provincial, federal and First Nations representatives, will be attending. Issues include the state of the workforce as well health care. (Black Press Media file photo).

When economic development officers from around B.C. gather for the BC Economic Summit May 6 to 9 in Penticton, labour supply and health care will be among the leading issues.

The meeting — which will also include industry, provincial, federal and First Nations representatives — takes places against the backdrop of labour shortages across B.C. with northern and rural areas especially impacted.

“We know workforce is an issue that we hear in all regions of the province,” Dale Wheeldon, president and chief executive officer of the B.C. Economic Development Association, said, adding that the summit will look at all workforce issues, including skills training, attraction and retention.

The summit will pay special attention to the issue of attracting and retaining immigrants as sources of labour, but also as entrepreneurs.

“What’s important to recognize is that the province has taken a number of steps to actually encourage immigrant workforce and businesses to look outside the major metro areas of British Columbia to look for either investment opportunities or workforce,” Wheeldon said, pointing to provincial and federal pilot programs.

Wheeldon also points to individual municipalities such as Vernon, who taken steps to attract immigrant workers and entrepreneurs. “Vernon has done a good job of that and that of course impacts not only Vernon, but it (also) impacts Armstrong, Enderby, Lumby, Coldstream, Spallmucheen, all those communities,” he said.

RELATED: B.C. investing $156M into rural health worker recruiting and retention

RELATED: B.C. resource industries ‘modernizing,’ ‘changing,’ says industry leader

RELATED: B.C. premier tours southern Interior in bid to deepen rural connections

RELATED: ‘Disturbing’ sign at Williams Lake ER sparks debate in legislature, investigation

RELATED: Rural B.C. mayors not eager to embrace new housing legislation

RELATED: Influx of workers expected to fill job shortfalls in most areas of B.C.

RELATED: B.C. needs to fill more than 1 million jobs within 10 years: report

RELATED: ‘Five-alarm fire’: Falcon laments staff shortage at Vernon hospital

A related workforce issue is the subject of attracting health care workers.

“We all hear about emergency room closures and not enough physicians and that — so what can communities be doing to work with their local physicians to attract more doctors and and other health care workers to their communities?”

This week’s summit comes just days after the provincial government had announced $155.7 million to attract and retain health care workers across multiple disciplines with a focus on rural communities.

B.C. United’s Carolee Oakes, MLA for Cariboo North, accused government of abandoning rural B.C.

“We have been hollowed out by this government,” Oakes said. “Where do you think the resources come? Where do you think…the resources come to pay for those things that you’re bragging about now? Where do you think that revenue comes from? It comes from our communities in rural British Columbia.”

While government last fall announced various measures to support rural B.C., various socio-economic indicators point toward its resource-dependent economy undergoing structural changes.

The annual Labour Market Outlook, for example, forecasts that employment in forestry is expected to decline by 1.3 per cent between now and 2033. Employment in agriculture and fishing, meanwhile, is expected to flat-line, with an annual growth of 0.1 per cent. Oil and gas employment is expected to grow by 1.4 per cent each year between now and 2033, while mining employment is expected to grow by one per cent.

Wheeldon said the summit will hear from industry representatives while exploring ways forward and acknowledged challenges in northern B.C.

“But the communities are very resilient and are looking at ways to revitalize their economy, may be restructure their economy…and by coming to an event like this, they get to begin to learn from others as to what’s been successful and learn new ways to do things.”

Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
Read more