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Dec 9, 2007, 12:24 AM
B.C. job growth at record level

Drawbacks are lack of workers and B.C. Fed's concern that low-paying jobs can't support families

Scott Simpson, Vancouver Sun
Published: Saturday, December 08, 2007

A "barnburner" jobs report from Statistics Canada shows British Columbia's nation-leading employment growth reaching a record level in November, thanks in large part to a robust construction sector.

StatsCan also reported record national job growth, which lifted the Canadian dollar a full cent relative to U.S. currency Friday on global money markets.

"Canada's powerful job engine remained in overdrive in November," CIBC World Markets reported, noting national employment gains were five times as strong as anticipated last month -- and twice as strong as the United States since January.

Construction cranes in Vancouver are one sign of an industry that employs nine per cent of B.C.'s workforce.
Photograph by : Glenn Baglo, Vancouver Sun, Files

Sal Guatieri of BMO Capital Markets called it a "barnburner jobs report" and noted in a commentary that most gains were in the private sector "for a change."

Amid the good news, however, analysts are cautioning that B.C. simply doesn't have enough new workforce recruits to maintain its spectacular pace and needs innovative ways to get more people onto payrolls.

Meanwhile, the B.C. Federation of Labour is worried that only a portion of those new jobs pay well enough to support a family.

Canada is faring well, overall, with the national employment rate reaching a record 63.8 per cent thanks to a gain of 43,000 jobs in November, according to the monthly labour force survey released Friday by StatsCan.

"The national employment growth rate is 2.3 per cent," Vincent Ferrao of Statistics Canada said in an interview. "That's the strongest in five years, and a lot of that is skewed by strength in the West."

B.C. accounted for 26,000 of those 43,000 jobs and B.C. employment is up 3.6 per cent for the year -- compared to the national rate of 2.3 per cent, and 1.8 per cent in 2006.

In contrast, Ontario saw employment shrink by 5,000 jobs in November and has 1.6 per cent employment growth to date this year.

Since January, B.C. has gained 80,000 jobs -- 95 per cent are full time compared to 65 per cent full-time job growth across Canada.

November was B.C.'s second-best month this year, surpassed only by 32,000 jobs in January.

Since January, the main drivers of B.C. job growth have been trade, construction, information, culture and recreation, and transportation and warehousing.

Last month, the construction sector alone gained 12,000 jobs.

B.C.'s unemployment rate dropped to 4.2 per cent from 4.4 per cent a month earlier.

"Right now we are facing extreme skill shortages and extreme shortages of workers at just about every possible skill level including those without the higher skills," economist Roslyn Kunin said in an interview.

"We certainly have shortages in every aspect of our construction sector and we don't have a large pool of young people entering the labour force to draw from.

"We must increase training in trades, construction and related occupations.

"We've got to look at immigrants. We've got to find actual, practical, cheap ways to determine who can do a job and who can't, and recognize the credentials of those who can."

B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair said in an interview there is "no question that a healthy economy needs a trained work force."

Sinclair said B.C. needs to avoid what he described as "the race to the bottom" by creating a generation of workers with nominal skills and mediocre wage prospects.

"Creating jobs is one thing, creating good jobs is another. I've got to say my fear is that we haven't invested in people so that they are able to create good jobs and attract capital and keep building our country and keep creating value-added work."

Sinclair is also worried about the impact that a rapidly declining forest industry will have upon workers and the small outlying B.C. communities in which they live.

"There is no plan to take us through for the next decade at all. It's just sort of happening and the government has its hands up in the air while we export record numbers of jobs."

Business Council of B.C. executive vice-president Jock Finlayson noted that the province has been making steady employment gains for several years -- with B.C. posting four-per-cent job growth from November 2006 to November 2007.

"That's not going to be a sustainable job growth number and there's nothing we can do about it. We don't have enough potential workers to be growing our employment base by four per cent a year, looking ahead.

"What it shows is that although the U.S. is slowing and although our lumber industry is in dire straits at the moment and a lot of export industries are struggling with a very strong Canadian dollar, the fact is that there are a lot of sectors doing quite well in B.C. -- especially domestically oriented industries that are focused on selling in the local marketplace rather than exporting."



B.C.'s already huge construction sector swelled by another 12,400 employees in November, according to Statistics Canada's labour force survey. For the year to date, construction has accounted for more than one quarter of all B.C.'s new jobs.


B.C. 12,400 +6.4% 24,300 +13.3% 207,000

Lower Mainland 5,000 +0.4% 9,000 +8.5% 114,600

Metro Vancouver 2,500 +2.7% 7,000 +7.9% 95,400

Abbotsford -100 -1.2% -100 -1.2% 8,400

Source: Statistics Canada.