Changing Workforce Demographics – Foreign Workers in BC and Beyond
By Elizabeth Wilson.
I have been working in employment and career services within British Columbia for about 20 years, and in that relatively short time the demographics of Canada’s workforce has changed dramatically.
Awareness of the issue of changing demographics in the workplace began with the realization that Canada’s aging baby boomers would have a significant impact on the workforce. According to the publication, Growing Up: The Social and Economic Implications of an Aging Population, we now have an aging workforce. As baby boomers are nearing retirement age, there are concerns that there will not be a sufficient number of skilled workers to replace them.
In the community consultation process that preceded the change in the delivery model of employment and career services instituted by the Government of BC in early 2012, government representatives were quite aware of the fact that the retiring of the baby boomers would result in dramatic changes to the workforce. In graphs showing employment projections for BC, the number of jobs over time remained relatively stable with only the small adjustments that are a normal part of the changes in employment. What was very different though, was the indication of who they thought would fill those jobs. Graphed over time, as baby boomers retired, the number of workers from Canada in the job market decreased and the number of immigrant workers increased to fill the job demand.
An examination of statistics for the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program tends to support this hypothesis. Over a 20 year period from 1994 to 2013, the number of TFWs in Canada increased over 800% from 1995.
There are variety of programs and services to assist immigrants in making the transition to successful employment in Canada. Maple 2.0 Mentorship in Action is a program that helps internationally educated professionals to make mentorship placements with Canadian employers so that they can gain Canadian experience to assist them to successfully achieve employment.
In many ways, Northeast BC is a harbinger for employment issues in the rest of Canada. This occurs because we have very low unemployment rates and a plethora of skilled jobs available along with many entry level jobs that provide supports and services to the more skilled jobs. There are a number of employment related issues in our region that are foreshadowing issues that will occur in the rest of Canada at some point in the relatively near future.
In 2009, there was a wind farm being built on the ridge just south of the city of Dawson Creek. The turbines themselves were manufactured in Germany and had to be shipped here in parts and then assembled on site. At that time, the University of Lethbridge was the only post-secondary institution in Western Canada that had a Wind Turbine Technician training program. There were Journeyman Wind Turbine Technicians in Southern Alberta working on the wind farms in that region, but most of them were not willing to come north to work on our construction site. As a result, the majority of the Journeymen who came were recruited from Europe. Northern Lights College developed a Wind Turbine Technician program, but the timing of it was only able to produce apprentices to work locally.
When I graduated from Northern Lights College years ago, there were no international students. I am currently teaching a ‘Management Skills for Supervisors’ course in the Business Management programs at Northern Lights College in Dawson Creek; my class consists of 29 international students from India. My class does not include all of the students in the Business Management programs from India, and in other programs at the college there are many students from Nigeria, the Philippines, and other countries as well as India. These students are allowed to work part-time while in school if their program meets criteria set out by the Province. These students and quite a number of TFWs are filling the many entry level jobs in services and retail in Dawson Creek, and many of them are highly trained in their home country.
Despite the fact that our area is representative of the top ten most in demand jobs in Canada, the participants in our pre-employment programs are proof that there are a fair number of non-immigrant Canadians who are having trouble becoming successfully employed even in entry level positions. It is our experience that the piece missing for these people is the marketable skills required.
While much of this does not have a clear focus on where it is trending to or what the ultimate end result might be, it does present some clear issues that we need to be aware of as career practitioners. The big opportunities in our field are in helping new immigrants make the transition, both culturally and with technical / skills credentials, and in helping unemployed workers to develop the necessary marketable skills that are not taught in training institutions of one sort or another.