Where’s the workforce plan?

Last week the minister of finance floated the idea that B.C. might support the relocation of welfare recipients, on a voluntary basis, from the Lower Mainland to parts of the province where there are job vacancies. This appears to be an ill-formed idea for a multitude of reasons.

However, the fact that the idea is being floated speaks to an issue the government must start to grapple with in a more deliberate way than simply floating out trial balloons. That issue is where we’re going to get the trained workforce to support the variety of major projects that will potentially be initiated in B.C. over the coming decade. The proponents of the first LNG plant in Kitimat have stated publicly that worker shortages will threaten the economic viability of their and other LNG projects. The costs of the Site C project, if it’s approved, are likely to escalate dramatically as well due to workforce issues alone. Supplying the workforce for new mines, four LNG plants, various pipeline projects, the expansion of shale gas development, and all the associated service sector businesses that will support these major projects will require creative thinking and deliberate planning — by government.

Only government has the overall responsibility and capacity to do this level of planning. It will demand a higher level of co-ordination and thoughtfulness than simply floating out trial balloons about relocating welfare recipients. And, it’ll require an increased investment in post-secondary education and training, not the decrease we’re seeing in that budget item over the next three years.  For our region, a well-planned workforce transition strategy is needed as soon as possible, as our log supply will decrease dramatically, as early as three years from now. It may not be welfare recipients who will need help relocating if we don’t have a plan for this potentially dramatic transition.

Bob Simpson is the Independent MLA for Cariboo North.

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