Opinion » Editorial


2010 a period of change, even if the Olympics weren’t coming



There were lots of numbers thrown around at the Spirit of 2010 Business Summit organized by the provincial government nearly two weeks ago, but the most important numbers I heard associated with 2010 were demographic rather than economic.

Perhaps the most significant thing about 2010 is that it will be a turning point. The majority of baby boomers are expected to begin retiring in 2010. For the first time ever, the number of people leaving the workforce will exceed the number of people in the 15-24 age group entering the workforce. According to figures from the Ministry of Skills Development and Labour, Canada and Japan have the lowest ratio of younger individuals in the workforce – 20-39 year olds – to those aged 40-59.

You can imagine what this will mean for a healthcare system already on life support, and what it means for education.

A company like Intrawest has always been good at understanding demographics and trends. It wasn’t just because the company directors had an interest in skiing that Intrawest dove headfirst into the recreational real estate business in the early 1990s. It was because Intrawest understood the demographics; baby boomers were entering a period in their lives when they could afford recreational real estate and had more leisure time.

Recognizing the importance of demographics Whistler-Blackcomb decided early last winter to expand its study of who was skiing/riding where and when on the local mountains to look at larger trends in the snow sport industry, including where the next generation of skiers/boarders/sliders is going to come from.

More basic numbers for British Columbia, again according to the Ministry of Skills Development and Labour, show that this province isn’t going to be able to fill all of the 1 million job openings that are going to come up in the next decade unless it attracts more people. And those people will need greater skill levels than previous generations of workers.

The situation is similar for most of North America, which means B.C. will be competing with everyone else to attract skilled workers.

The ministry’s projections show the top five sectors for employment between 2003 and 2015 as health services (114,000 openings); accommodation, food and recreation services (110,000 openings); retail trade (110,000 openings); computer and business services (67,000 openings); and construction (62,000 openings).

Of course we know there is already a shortage of skilled construction workers and it will likely become more acute as construction of the Olympic venues begins next year. At the business summit in Vancouver representatives of the construction industry talked about how companies are working individually within the industry and in partnership with schools and with the ministry to try and meet the demand for skilled construction workers.

The provincial government also announced a four-part strategy for 2010, focusing on trade and investment, procurement, tourism and human resources. The human resources strategy may be the most significant for the whole province. It includes creating 25,000 new post-secondary spaces by 2010 and locating those spaces in different regions of B.C.

It also includes creating centres of excellence, where training is co-ordinated between educational institutions and industry. A hospitality and tourism centre of excellence will be announced later this year.

The point of all this is that the status quo isn’t going to cut it. There has to be some significant adjustments in the next few years if British Columbia is to again become a "have" province.

The planning and the work toward this has to be done, regardless of what else is happening in 2010. The Olympics aren’t going to produce that change on their own, but they are helping people in B.C. focus on the task at hand. They will also provide a boost into the post-baby boom era – a boost other provinces and states would kill for.