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B.C.’s new education strategy to be based on direct employer input

Shirley Bond, Minister of Labour in Vancouver, British Columbia December 17, 2012. The B.C. government’s new education strategy will be shaped by labour market data based on direct input from employers rather than from scanning online help-wanted ads, says Ms. Bond.

Ben Nelms/Reuters

The B.C. government's new education strategy will be shaped by labour market data based on direct input from employers rather than from scanning online help-wanted ads, says Shirley Bond, the province's labour minister.

The federal government has been forced to re-state its labour market statistics after it eliminated data on websites such as Kijiji from its calculations. The result undermines the justification for expanding the temporary foreign worker program – the labour market shortages forecast in February have all but disappeared with the new calculations.

Ottawa's latest labour market report points to a job vacancy rate of 1.5 per cent, down from four per cent. In a statement on Monday, officials from Employment and Social Development Canada defended the use of Kijiji job postings in some circumstances, saying the department "uses all information sources at its disposal to better understand the labour market."

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Ms. Bond said her government will sidestep any confusion by relying on its own figures, which will play a crucial role in determining where education resources are targeted.

"We are going to have our own database in British Columbia for the projects that are developed here in our province," Ms. Bond told reporters in Victoria.

Ms. Bond's office has mapped out the labour needs of 30 proposed projects in B.C.'s north, each worth half a billion dollars or more. That includes five proposed liquefied natural gas plants. The province says it can now forecast which trades will be most in demand in each of the next 10 years as the projects are expected to ramp up.

Last week, the province announced a 10-year plan for its education and apprenticeship system that is designed to meet the anticipated labour needs for those projects. Funds within the education sector are being shifted toward trades training, and the province says it will continue to monitor labour needs so the system adapts to any changes as projects move ahead or fall by the wayside.

"I have a great deal of confidence we are in a much better position than we used to be in terms of labour market data," Ms. Bond said. "If you take a sector like liquefied natural gas, we are spending a great deal of time and energy making sure our numbers are accurate. I'm not going to speak to Canada's data."

British Columbia uses labour market data from BC Stats, Statistics Canada and Employment and Social Development Canada, but Ms. Bond's officials said the federal vacancy data that were affected by the use of Kijiji are not used. However, the province does use data from its job postings.

B.C. NDP leader John Horgan said the Liberal government has scored an "F" for its past efforts to match skills training with the job market.

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In his first Question Period as leader of the opposition, Mr. Horgan pointed to the current labour shortages that have led to the use of temporary foreign workers at Rio Tinto Alcan's $3.3-billion (U.S.) Kitimat Modernization Project.

"The Rio Tinto project has been on the books for 20 years, and just now, after 13 years in power, the government is going to do something about training," he said. "Why aren't British Columbians at the front of the line?"

Ms. Bond said the point of the education changes is to ensure that British Columbians have the skills to capture the construction jobs that are expected to peak in the next five years. But she said workers from the rest of Canada and from abroad will still be needed.

"There will be periods of time in our province with economic development where [temporary foreign workers] are necessary."

At last count, B.C. was host to about a quarter of the nation's temporary foreign workers. Ms. Bond said on Monday she does not know if the new federal job vacancy rate will lead to changes in the number of temporary foreign workers in B.C., but repeated her government's mantra that "British Columbians should come first."

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