How important are resource jobs to BC’s north?

After posting a report highlighting that only 1 in 100 BC jobs are in the mining, oil and gas sectors & that more people in our province work in the tech sector than in oil, gas, mining, forestry and utilities combined, we started having conversations about the tensions between different parts of our province – is information like this more relevant to Vancouver and the surrounding south coast than to the interior and north?

Outside of the urban and populous south coast, it’s often assumed that vastly different market forces are at play. We decided to examine the data and see if these assumptions matched up with reality.

In particular, we were interested to learn what regional job markets in the north of the province look like, which industries are growing & which are shrinking, and where future demand is expected to come from. What would the same jobs breakdown look like in Kitimat or Prince George – both places where primary resource industries have traditionally played a significant economic role?  Is there a much higher reliance on extractive industries (oil, mining and gas) than in the south? The following summarizes our initial research:

Defining BC’s north

This data focuses on the Northeast, Cariboo, and North Coast & Nechako regions. The Northeast is part of the Peace River basin and includes Fort St. John and Dawson Creek. About two-thirds Cariboo residents live in Prince George, and the North Coast and Nechako includes economic centres Terrace, Kitimat and Prince Rupert, as well as Haida Gwaii.

Please note: the data we used was for the period 2010-2020 as it was the most recent labour market outlook available.

Northern BC map

Where are the jobs?

One in ten people in BC work in manufacturing, and about the same proportion holds true here. The majority of those manufacturing jobs are value-added services including wood products, paper & metal.

And, as it turns out, primary resource jobs play a fairly small role, and the extractive industries (oil, mining and gas) play an even more marginal role. For example, in Prince George and the surrounding Cariboo region, only 5.2% of the population works in primary resources – that’s fishing, forestry, mining, oil and gas combined. And until the rise of pine beetle infestation and softwood lumber disputes, those were mostly forestry jobs.
Cariboo employment by industry

In the North Coast and Nechako region, which includes Kitimat and Terrace, the biggest employer is similarly retail & wholesale trade, followed closely by health care, manufacturing and education. Only 5.5% of the working population is employed in forestry, fishing, mining, oil & gas.
North & Nechako jobs

The Northeast is the only region where primary resources still make up more than 1 in 100 jobs. Here forestry, fishing, mining, oil and gas are significant industries – when combined, they’re the second-largest employer in the region. It should be noted, however, that the Northeast has the smallest workforce in the region, so this translates to around just 4,000 jobs in total.
Northeast jobs

Future trends

Across BC, educational and health related jobs are expected to see the biggest growth in demand over the next few years as labour markets adapt to an aging population and other demographic changes. These predictions also apply to northern communities.

In the Northeast, North Coast & Nechako and Cariboo, the safest future careers will be in bus and other motor vehicle driving, administration and office work, nursing and cleaning.

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In the Cariboo

The Cariboo’s economic base has traditionally been ranching, agriculture, mining, forestry and tourism. Recently, the manufacturing sector has been growing as a response to pine beetle and the softwood lumber dispute – in response to the collapse of direct logging industry, jobs are being created in diversified wood and pulp products manufacturing and bio-energy. Tourism is an increasing source of local employment, particularly adventure activities like sport fishing and mountain biking, as is education (with the growth of UNBC and the College of New Caledonia) and health care.

Here, employment growth is expected to be driven firstly by health care, then the accommodation and food sector, and finally by forestry, mining, oil and gas. Across the board, demand for doctors, nurses, dentists and health assisting jobs will be high. Labour shortages are expected for paralegals, social service workers, educators, food and kitchen workers and nurses.

Across the three regions, demand for workers in the oil, mining and gas sectors is expected to grow at a roughly equal pace to other sectors.

Boom and bust

An important dimension of the job markets in these three regions is their cyclical nature of growth and retreat. Across Northern BC, labour market shortages (not enough workers to meet demand) are expected for part of the decade, along with other periods of excess labour market supply (more workers than jobs) as large infrastructure projects wrap up. More research is needed to get a full picture of how these large short-term projects are impacting local labour markets, but there are certainly fair questions to ask about whether they’re the most beneficial place to focus economic development efforts given their boom and bust nature.

In the Cariboo, the demand for workers is expected to exceed supply from 2011-2020. It is unknown whether these jobs are being filled by workers outside the region but within the province, by out-of-province Canadians or by temporary foreign workers. Given that as many as 1 out of every 4 new jobs in Canada may be going to temporary foreign workers, this is an important question.

From 2014 onwards, due to completion of most major projects and uncertainty about planned new ones, new job openings are expected to dry up, although there will still be more jobs than people to do them until around 2018.

Cariboo labour excess supply

Looking at the Northeast and North Coast & Nechako regions, the same boom and bust cycles play out. When major projects are going on, there aren’t nearly enough qualified local workers to fill the positions. When the major projects wrap up, the jobs dry up and unemployment rises.

North Coast labour excess supply

Northeast excess labour supply


Although there are huge differences in population density and levels of urbanization, surprisingly the basis of regional economies across the province don’t vary as widely as is often assumed, and primary resource industries (particularly oil, mining and gas), although still important, don’t play as significant a role in job creation and economic growth in BC’s northern regions as often assumed.



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