B.C.’s job vacancy rate remains Canada’s highest

Jobs continued to go unfilled in B.C. as fourth-quarter job vacancies rose 18% from the previous year to 104,585 positions, marking an increase of 16,060 openings.

Nationally, job vacancies rose 16.6%. The latest data confirms B.C.’s significant labour shortage, which is likely constraining economic growth. Relative to the size of the job market, B.C.’s job vacancy rate came in at 4.5%, which remained Canada’s highest by a wide margin. Ontario was second at 3.3%, which matched the national rate. High job vacancy is consistent with B.C.’s cyclically low unemployment rate of less than 5% and confirms anecdotal stories of labour shortages in various industries.

The highest job vacancy rate was observed in the Lower Mainland-Southwest (4.9%), followed by the Northeast (4.5%) and the North Coast and Nechako (3.9%). The lowest rate was in the Kootenay (2.9%). At the industry level, vacancies rose in 19 of 20 industry groups, pointing to solid labour demand across the economy.

Rising job vacancies in northern B.C. likely reflect opportunities related to activity in the liquefied natural gas sector. North Coast and Nechako job vacancies surged by 80% to 1,630 openings; vacancies in northeast B.C. jumped 40% to 1,795. Sub-provincial population estimates for 2018 pointed to uneven growth among B.C.’s local areas. B.C.’s population expanded by a moderately strong pace of 1.4% in 2018, led by B.C.’s census metropolitan areas (CMAs). Growth in the CMAs – centres with more than 100,000 persons – rose to 1.5% from 1.3% in 2017, while growth in small-to-medium urban centres slipped from 1.7% to 1.3%. Population in rural areas grew 1%.

Among metro areas, the Vancouver CMA swelled by 39,400 or 1.5% from the previous year, following a 1.1% gain in 2017. The region remained a preferred destination for international immigrants with inflows at more than 40,000 persons, but it is estimated to have lost nearly 14,000 to other parts of the province.

Victoria gained 4,910 residents, marking an increase of 1.3%, but decelerated in population growth from 2017. Kelowna remained a high-growth region, with its population up 1.9%, while Abbotsford-Mission experienced a gain of 1.4%. Population growth in B.C. metro areas generally underperformed others in the country.

Among B.C.’s mid-sized markets or census agglomerations, population growth was strongest in B.C.’s southern Interior and Vancouver Island markets. At the top of the list was Salmon Arm, which grew by 2.1%. Port Alberni expanded by 1.8%, while Squamish, Kamloops and Campbell River expanded by 1.7%. Northern B.C. population growth remained subdued. •

Bryan Yu is deputy chief economist at Central 1 Credit Union.