It’s never a bad time to look at labour and employment numbers to get a sense of where our society is economically.
Shannon Baikie does exactly that every day at the North Island Employment Foundations Society (NIEFS) as its labour market services lead, and she says while we’re looking better than we were, there are always concerns.
Right now, Baikie says, the local economy is “pretty mixed.”
“We’ve come out of the recession,” Baikie says.
“We sort of had a pretty good boom in the last couple of years … and we’re starting to see kind of a turn towards a more balanced economy.”
This is due, in large part, to the community’s recognition that we need to diversify economically.
“When you’re talking about resource sectors, you’re always going to have those ups and downs,” Baikie says.
“They’re called boom and bust cycles for a reason.
“We went through a very hard time when the mill went down, and Timberwest, and through the recession, but out of that has really come a community that’s ready for economic diversification.”
Baikie says it seems people are now at least, “willing to have that conversation,” and to look at the types of business infrastructure and supports that exist here to make that happen.
“Forty years ago, the mill was the employer and there wasn’t a need for that diversification, but now we see the economic collapse that can happen to a community when you’re so dependent on one employer.”
The labour market is like the real-estate market, in that sometimes it’s a “buyer’s market” and sometimes it’s a “seller’s market.” Right now, Baikie says, it’s pretty much right in the middle.
“I’m not hearing from employers that they’re having a difficult time trying to fill positions,” she says, “whereas a couple of years ago, even a year and a half ago, employers were pulling their hair out because they couldn’t fill positions. Now, I’d say that’s not as much of an issue. We’re still seeing very active hiring happening on the North Island in terms of forestry, our tourism sector was very strong this summer, as well. It sort of rebounded back.”
Has there been a sudden flooding of the job market due to the recent downturn in Alberta, as some suspect?
Sure, Baike says, people are coming back from Alberta in droves, but it’s not affecting the job prospects of others as negatively as one might expect.
What Baikie is seeing, primarily, is that the people flooding back from Alberta are those who were entry-level, low-skilled workers – labourers, for example, who don’t have a trade ticket or other certification.
“Those are the people who tend to be laid off first,” Baikie said, “whereas those high-skilled workers are still working, or were able to connect (in Alberta) with other opportunities because of those skills.”
So people are not flooding back from Alberta and immediately displacing huge numbers of current or potential Campbell River employees.
Val Meany, executive director of NIEFS, echoes that sentiment, saying because the people returning from Alberta are looking to rejoin the workforce here – and we are engaged, regionally, in completely different kinds of work than they are in Alberta .
“It’s more about a skills mismatch,” Meany says. “You always hear about a skills shortage, but it’s not necessarily a shortage of skills, it’s that the skills are mismatched with the opportunities that are available. And that “skills mismatch,” often sees them return to school rather than the workforce.
According to Baikie, the biggest overall challenges that we’re going to have as a community from an employment perspective going forward have actually been our recent large employment opportunities.
“The John Hart project and the hospital project are finite projects,” she says. “We don’t know what impact that’s going to have at the end of the day when those projects are complete. Obviously when those projects are complete those (employment) opportunities won’t be there.”
She adds, however, that many local companies have an opportunity to showcase their skills and businesses to the world while these projects are ongoing.
To view NIEFS’ quarterly economic reports visit www.niefs.net.