Premier Christy Clark has revised her skills training agenda to put more emphasis on innovation and technology after conceding on Monday that her five-year-old jobs plan has missed some key targets.
The Premier produced a new set of targets, with a promise to have "the most diversified economy in Canada by 2022." She named University of British Columbia president Santa Ono as her chief adviser of the Innovation Network to drive collaboration between postsecondary institutions and the knowledge-based industry.
Five years ago, Ms. Clark launched a jobs plan designed to get students trained in the trades.
The goal was to have a skilled B.C. workforce available for the new jobs that were to be generated with the projected opening of eight new mines and one liquefied natural gas facility in production by 2015, and three LNG plants by 2020.
Since then, five new mines have opened in the province (but one has suspended operations), and one small LNG facility has reached a final investment decision but is not expected to be in production until 2020.
On Monday, Ms. Clark said the jobs plan overall has been a success: British Columbia is leading the country in job creation and economic growth and there are more than 190,000 additional jobs today.
But she said her government has missed four of its 19 original targets and, in the process, many rural communities have been left behind.
"It's a reminder that in this global economy, very unexpected things can happen. There is a lot of risk out there," she told a news conference, adding that the protectionist rhetoric of U.S. President Donald Trump has created additional uncertainty.
"It has meant rural communities haven't had all the same opportunities that urban communities have had," Ms. Clark said. "So we are going to work harder to support rural communities."
The Premier said the province will invest in more infrastructure development in rural communities, and will seek to encourage more technology-based jobs in those parts of the province.
British Columbians go to the polls on May 9 and the B.C. Liberals will be seeking a fourth consecutive term. Ms. Clark won the 2013 election on a promise to deliver jobs and although the provincewide employment figures show growth, some regions – especially in the northeast – have struggled.
Irene Lanzinger, president of the BC Federation of Labour, said the Premier's revamped jobs plan doesn't address the fundamentals of what is wrong with the province's jobs market.
"The jobs plan is not working," she said in an interview. Ms. Lanzinger said many of those new jobs are part-time, minimum-wage positions that leave workers below the poverty line. "Nobody is talking about the quality of jobs, about permanent jobs that sustain families."
New Democratic Party leader John Horgan said people are worried about the future. "I think most British Columbians are struggling. Everywhere I go, people are working harder and they're getting less."
Mr. Ono said in an interview he plans to travel the province to encourage an "alignment" of pursuits by industry and universities. He said that doesn't mean the government will pull back from its pursuit of trades training opportunities, but he will emphasize the need for people with degrees in arts and sciences as well.
"I really believe the innovation economy will elevate both the arts and sciences and it will result in more tech jobs coming into the province," he said. "All boats will rise."
Part of the B.C. jobs plan was to forecast the future employment needs of industry to ensure that British Columbia's postsecondary institutions were providing programs that would lead to in-demand jobs.
The government's list of top job opportunities has dropped four occupations, including drywall installers and courier service drivers. Four new occupations have made the list, including computer engineers and user support technicians.
The change reflects how the B.C. tech sector has surged, but most of those jobs are based in urban centres in the southwest corner of the province.
"It's really important for me in this role, to keep that fact in mind, as we think about how to create talent in the future," Mr. Ono said. "It includes not only the young ones coming up, but providing education for individuals who have to retool to become part of this innovation economy."
With a report from Ian Bailey in Vancouver.