When I speak with Burnaby businesses, I routinely hear stories about their experiences trying to find workers.
The stories may involve job postings going weeks without an applicant or prospective employees not showing up for interviews (a more common occurrence that you might think).
Overall, the theme is the same: labour shortages are an issue across the business community. And while this labour shortage is causing headaches for all kinds of businesses, for those in our technology, digital and film sectors, it can be a real threat to their growth.
According to two recent reports from the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, “two-thirds of B.C. businesses report having had positions that were difficult-to-fill” and “61 per cent of businesses say that the availability of workers has only worsened over the past year.”
And while B.C. already has the lowest unemployment rate in Canada - 4.7 per cent for the month of March - the number of job vacancies is actually expected to rise. The provincial government is forecasting nearly one-million job openings over the next decade, and explicitly acknowledges that these can’t all be filled with local workers. That’s precisely why businesses need access to international and new Canadian talent.
For those businesses in the technology, digital and film sectors, finding talent is especially critical. Specialized talent is needed to drive innovation and facilitate growth. By its very nature, this type of talent can be hard to find and sometimes it is simply not available locally. This shortage may be due to demand outstripping local supply or, in cases of new or emerging industries, there may just not be any local workers with experience.
In these cases, access to international and new Canadian talent is a tool that can help.
Governments have responded to this issue with two pilot programs - the Global Talent Stream program at the federal level and the BC Provincial Nominee Program Tech Pilot.
Both of these programs help local businesses bring international talent and bring them to Canada to help grow our economy.
Talking to Burnaby businesses using these programs, I’ve heard how successful they have been in helping companies grow and stay competitive. Through these programs, some positions that sat vacant are being filled, and some innovations and projects which had stagnated are moving forward. Allowing business to find this talent also creates economic spin-off benefits for the economy as a whole; the federal government credits the Global Talent Stream program alone with generating commitments from businesses to create 40,000 spin-off jobs.
Both of these programs were unfortunately given June 2019 expiration dates, when they will no longer be available to Burnaby businesses.
That’s why we applauded when the federal government announced in the March budget that it would make the Global Talent Stream permanent, and that is also why we’re calling on the province to follow suit and save the BC PNP Tech Pilot.
Burnaby is already home to a highly skilled and educated workforce, thanks to our world-class post-secondary institutions. But in a competitive and changing economy, businesses need access to a range of tools to help them succeed, and access to international and new Canadian talent is an important part of that mix.
Paul Holden is president and CEO of the Burnaby Board of Trade