Making the most of economic recovery post-pandemic will take training and growing the work force, says B.C.’s premier.
Premier John Horgan addressed delegates during the first day of the Vancouver Island Economic Summit on Wednesday, Oct. 27. He spoke on a range of topics, but part of the focus was on labour shortages limiting the growth potential for companies on the Island and across B.C.
Horgan said B.C. is “leading Canada’s economic recovery” with a comparatively low unemployment rate, and said more British Columbians are working today than when the pandemic hit. The job recovery rate on Vancouver Island is 104 per cent, he said.
However, Horgan said business owners are continually telling him that B.C. “needs to up its game” with skills training.
The premier lauded the province’s partnerships with post-secondary institutions on the Island in educating and training the next generation of workers. Horgan said thousands are being trained now in the health-care sector, and said 500 Island-based grads will soon be ready to start careers in that field.
He pointed to a new engineering building coming to the University of Victoria which will help create hundreds of spaces for science, technology, engineering and math students, and said 20 new ‘micro-credential’ programs are launching in B.C. with more on the way. Horgan said the province is also trying to make education more accessible for Indigenous people, with 1,700 new spaces provincewide for skills training “in high-demand fields.”
Immigration will be another part of the solution, the premier said, adding that he will be working with the federal government on that front.
“Many people, businesses and communities are still feeling the effects of the pandemic, but we are well-positioned to seize the opportunities ahead,” Horgan said.
The premier also spoke about his government’s efforts to recognize the pandemic’s impacts on people’s mental health. He said while the provincial government had contingency plans for dealing with a virus pandemic, the people of B.C. didn’t have those same contingencies.
“People at home or people in small businesses, they’re not preparing for these things – they’re preparing to get through the week, to meet payroll, to meet their mortgage payments. That’s what people are doing,” Horgan said. “So we are very concerned about the mental health impacts of not just the pandemic, but all of these other variables.”
He said the government is taking action through its Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions and said he was glad to see the federal government create the same sort of ministry. The premier said he will continue to advocate for increased federal health transfers which can fund not only mental health care, but other improvements to B.C.’s health-care system.
Horgan also noted that mental health continues to generate more talk and less stigma.
“How do we all come together to make sure we’re caring for each other, that government is doing what it can to put in place programs, but also that communities are identifying where we need to fill gaps,” he asked.