B.C. steadily losing its immigrant edge

BC’s skills shortage is becoming more acute with each passing month, even though the province has yet to hit the impending tsunami of baby-boomer retirements.

BC’s skills shortage is becoming more acute with each passing month, even though the province has yet to hit the impending tsunami of baby-boomer retirements.

The crux of the problem is B.C.’s diminishing edge in attracting skilled workers, not only from across the country but from around the world.

For more than a year and a half, an increasing number of British Columbians have left the province for financially greener pastures in Alberta after nearly a decade of attracting tens of thousands of people from across the country. (See “B.C. population exodus continues to flow east” – issue 1196; September 25-October 1.)

Since 2010’s fourth quarter, more than 8,300 people have left B.C. for Alberta, 55% of them in the first half of 2012.

The interprovincial exodus from B.C. has been manageable so far with B.C.’s influx of immigrants. But Jock Finlayson, executive vice-president of the Business Council of BC (BCBC), told Business in Vancouver that B.C. is steadily losing its competitive edge in attracting skilled immigrants from abroad.

According to Statistics Canada data, the number of immigrants moving to Alberta has doubled in the past decade, approaching an equivalent number of immigrants that come to B.C. Such a shift in immigrant migration is unprecedented in Alberta’s history, which received a record number of immigrants in 2012’s second quarter. According to Alberta’s Treasury Board and Finance Ministry, the province’s share of Canadian immigrants hit a 30-year high of 14.2%. That’s its highest share since 1982’s third quarter (15.3%).

While this migration shift poses potential challenges for B.C.’s economy (particularly its housing market), Finlayson noted the shifts are already exacerbating B.C.’s talent shortages. Skilled workers, either B.C.-born or from abroad, are clearly being lured by Alberta’s higher average wages, greater job prospects, lower unemployment and lower housing and living costs.

“It’s very competitive,” said Finlayson, “and even though our economy is not that strong and unemployment hasn’t come back to levels before the crisis, we’re already seeing labour markets tighten up faster than might otherwise be the case.”

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