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British Columbia Economy Losing Billions due to Skills Shortage

Ottawa, February 5, 2015—British Columbia is losing out on as much as $4.7 billion in economic activity and $616 million in provincial tax revenues annually because too few residents have the education and skills needed to help businesses innovate and grow in today’s economy, according to a new Conference Board of Canada report, Skills for Success: Developing Skills for a Prosperous B.C. An additional $1.3 billion in economic activity and $169 million in tax revenues are lost annually due to skills mismatches—when some B.C. residents are employed in occupations that do not make full use of their higher education and skills.

Book with a tree growing out of it“There is a disconnect between the education and skills that employers need, and those that employees and graduates have,” said Daniel Munro, Principal Research Associate, Industry and Business Strategy. “B.C. has bright economic prospects, including growth as a global trade hub, the development of new knowledge-based industries, and major infrastructure and resource projects. But B.C. employers are having difficulty finding people with the education and skills they need to pursue those opportunities.”


  • Skills gaps and mismatches in B.C. cost the provincial economy up to $6 billion in foregone GDP, and $785 million in provincial tax revenues, annually.
  • B.C. employers expect difficulty filling jobs in business, finance, and administration; trades, transport, and related occupations; and sales and service occupations. They are especially concerned about filling manager and supervisor roles as experienced employees retire.

The Conference Board of Canada conducted a survey of 854 B.C. employers—covering over 130,000 employees—to determine which skills, occupations, and credentials are required by employers to meet current and future needs.

Employers who responded to the Conference Board’s B.C. Skills Survey expect to have greatest difficulty finding qualified employees for jobs in business, finance, and administration (35 per cent); trades, transport, equipment operators, and related occupations (30 per cent); and sales and service occupations (23 per cent). Across all occupational categories, B.C. employers are especially motivated to find managers and supervisors due to an emerging “experience gap” as managers and other workers retire over the next five to ten years.

B.C. employers will be looking for post-secondary graduates with university degrees (57 per cent); college diplomas (44 per cent) and certificates (41 per cent); and applied degrees (24 per cent). They are most interested in graduates of business and management programs, computer and information sciences, communications, and engineering and electronics. A third of employers will also be looking for people with trades qualifications and certificates.

Employers are also concerned about deficits in essential skills in the workforce, especially critical thinking and problem-solving (73 per cent), oral communication (38 per cent), literacy (36 per cent), and working with others (33 per cent). Critically, B.C. employers note that they are looking not simply for people to fill specific jobs, but employees with the essential skills, attitudes and behaviours needed to learn and adapt to changing circumstances, innovate and help pursue new opportunities, and address emerging challenges.

“B.C. is at a turning point in how it develops the education and skills of its residents to prepare them for success—both in the short term and throughout their careers and lives,” said Munro. “Concerted effort is required of all of B.C.’s skills stakeholders if the province is to maximize its economic prosperity and social well-being.”

To address B.C.’s skills challenges:

  • Educators can better align programs and curricula to the current and future realities of the labour market.
  • Governments can increase investment in education and training, including resources for essential and employability skills development to foster a flexible and dynamic workforce.
  • Employers can increase investments in training and development and provide more experiential learning opportunities.
  • Educators can improve communication with employers, and provide detailed information to students about career outcomes to support decisions about educational paths.

The report, Skills for Success: Developing Skills for a Prosperous B.C., is available from our e-Library. The report was prepared with financial support from BC Colleges and the BC Association of Institutes and Universities.

The Conference Board will host a 60-minute webinar on Occupations, Credentials and Skills for a Prosperous BC: The Right Skills for Success, on March 3, 2015.

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