Cai Brown, at 18, has the road map for his career worked out. He's well on his way, through the secondary school apprenticeship program, to becoming a heavy-duty transport technician.
The B.C. government's jobs-training revamp, launched two years ago, was well-timed for the Saanich youth, who expects to have his journeyman mechanic's ticket by the time he is 20 years old.
He is already looking at where that can take him: He loves snowboarding, so he dreams of fixing snowcats – the track-trucks used for maintenance at ski hills.
"It's got endless possibilities," Mr. Brown explained in an interview. "The biggest thing I get is job satisfaction." He described a recent assignment where he was sent to repair a dump truck that had broken down in a remote location. Getting the truck running again with the materials at hand was a triumph.
"It's like a doctor clearing up someone's disease."
The government's jobs blueprint put more money into turning high school students on to a trades training path, but it also forced a shift in the postsecondary school system, to churn out more graduates for what B.C. expects will be the jobs of the future.
An increasing share of the province's funding to postsecondary institutions is being tied to programs that will produce skills that match what the government expects to be the most in-demand jobs.
"We spent a lot of time understanding the labour market so we can say to our training agencies, including our postsecondary institutions, 'Here's what we know about the future of British Columbia from a work force perspective,'" said Jobs Minister Shirley Bond. "And we ask them to make sure they are paying attention to those numbers."
She praised the institutions for embracing change but it wasn't like there was much choice. To date, B.C. has reallocated $130-million in postsecondary funding to programs for in-demand jobs. By 2018, one-quarter of the province's financial support will be tied to classes that match its labour-market forecasts.
It means Simon Fraser University now has fewer seats for arts and social science programs and more for graduate engineering. Similarly, the University of Victoria has reduced the number of seats for arts and teacher education programs and has more spaces in its bachelor of engineering program. These shifts are occurring across the province.
Two years ago, when Ms. Bond launched the skills training overhaul, it looked like a skilled labour crisis was brewing. But at that time, the oil patch in Alberta was still bustling, and the B.C. government was anticipating the launch of a new liquefied natural gas industry. Investors worried that British Columbia would not be able to supply enough workers to build proposed LNG plants and related infrastructure.
There was also a demographic challenge because of B.C.'s aging work force. The data Ms. Bond's ministry collected pointed to a profound shift in the labour market by 2016, with fewer young people entering the work force than older people leaving for retirement.
That demographic tipping point has been reached, but the skills shortage has not proven – at least yet – to be dire. The provincial government is anxiously waiting for Ottawa's decision on the Pacific NorthWest LNG plant near Prince Rupert, which will determine whether the province gets its first final investment decision on LNG. BC Hydro is still hiring some workers from outside B.C. to build the Site C dam in the Peace River valley, but executives happily note they are experiencing no shortage of skilled labour or equipment because of the downturn in the oil and gas sector.
Ms. Bond will release an update on the jobs blueprint on Monday, the second anniversary of her launch. She said in an interview the program has been a success because it was always designed to adapt to changing trends.
With some foresight, her plan also did not bank on an LNG boom despite her party's bullish outlook. The future of jobs in B.C. looks a little different from how it looked in 2014, but not dramatically so. The province now forecasts less need for cooks, painters and plumbers, with greater demand for realtors and computer network technicians. (Mr. Brown can rest easy; the demand for heavy-duty mechanics is still expected to be strong.)
What those changes underscore is that in an ever-changing economy, British Columbia is reshaping its education system around forecasts.
"It's an art as much as we want it to be a science," Ms. Bond said.