A new report by six research universities in B.C. predicts a skilled worker shortage in the province by 2016, but UNBC president George Iwama said employers in the north are already feeling the pinch.
"For the north what really comes to mind is 2016 is based on averages, but it's today in many cases," Iwama said.
The Research Universities' Council of British Columbia produced a labour market profile Monday which said if current trends hold by 2016 there will be more jobs in the province than there are trained graduates and by 2020 the education deficit will mean more than 18,000 jobs across the province will go unfilled.
Pointing to ongoing resource development in the northeast part of the province as well as on the northwest coast, Iwama said there are projects currently underway that don't have enough skilled workers. To compound the problem the northeast is expected to have the fastest rate of job growth between now and 2020 than any other region in the province.
"We're passed that tipping point in many of our communities," he said. "When you go to the front lines in Kitimat or in the northeast, these projects are underway and the need for skilled workers exists today and not in 2016."
In order to address the shortage the universities - including UNBC - are calling on the provincial government to help. Province wide they're looking for things like a space for every qualified student, improved financial aid programs and the creation of a group to bring government, business and post-secondary institutions together.
Iwama said the financial aid hits home in the north, where students often have to travel a long way to go to school.
"It's a matter of packing up your belongings, moving to another location - whether that be from a small community to Quesnel, Terrace, Fort St. John or to Prince George and in many cases going into debt for that privilege," he said.
Another issue unique to the north is stagnant or even declining enrollment in some programs. Iwama said increasing enrollment in the region is important in order to retain graduates to fill jobs in the north.
"Enrollment is important in two regards -- one is tuition and that's a budgetary issue for the institution, but more importantly it has to do with trained graduates who are more prone to stay and work in the north," he said.
Iwama said he often tells people in places like Vancouver and Victoria that a sustainable economy in the north benefits the entire province.
"We need all the support that Victoria can give us so we can support the promise of economic prosperity for all of British Columbia," he said.