During COVID times, especially, the ‘State of the Island’ differs greatly sector by sector.
The Vancouver Island Economic Summit concluded Thursday, Oct. 28, with the annual presentation of the State of the Island report from Susan Mowbray, senior economist with MNP.
This year’s report highlighted “the sectoral nature of the impacts of COVID-19.” Whereas pandemic health restrictions harmed industries such as tourism, service, arts and entertainment, recreation and transportation industries, other sectors such as health and certain financial and professional services that transitioned to remote work environments reported growth.
Mowbray recalled that last year’s State of the Island report came in more uncertain times, when different pandemic restrictions were in place and vaccines weren’t yet available.
“We definitely have more clarity on where things are going, but there has not been a single narrative or data point that describes the economic journey we’ve been on or will be on going forward,” she said. “Really, the theme this year is about this ongoing disruption we’re experiencing.”
Increasing adoption of digitization is another theme common across sectors, Mowbray said, and it’s created both challenges and opportunities. In an era of worker shortages, she said, “hybrid” business models that incorporate some remote work can be helpful.
“Employers need to adapt to our new labour market conditions. They need to be creative,” she said. “For employers who can have part of their staff working remotely, that’s a way for them to actually attract, potentially, and retain staff.”
She added that the construction industry, for example, has shown technological advancements in pre-fabrication that creates efficiencies and reduces waste.
“We’re going to see increasing adoption of technology in areas where we never would have expected it before, and that’s actually good for our productivity,” Mowbray said.
Conversely, some workers have struggled to keep up with technology and that is one of the reasons for the labour shortage, she said, as there are gaps in digital skills.
“It’s areas that might come as a surprise. Something as simple as knowing how to process an online order if you’re a retailer … or maybe it’s how to use a tablet if you’re an electrician and you’re doing your invoices,” she said.
On the Island, the administrative, professional, scientific and technical services added jobs between 2019 and 2021, whereas employment numbers dropped in construction, hospitality and retail.
Mowbray was surprised by the construction job losses, but said they can be attributed to the completion of some large-scale projects on the Island, and also to supply chain problems.
As for the forestry sector, Mowbray said production is expected to remain stable at 2019-2020 levels following a period of persistent decline before that.
The Island’s unemployment rate in the first half of 2021 was 6.5 per cent, below B.C.’s rate of 7.3 per cent, and rebounding from an 8.7-per cent unemployment rate during 2020. Because of the Island’s aging population, though – 25 per cent of residents are 65-plus – the Island has the lowest employment and labour force participation rates in the province.
The Island’s population grew more modestly last year than during the previous five years, but the Island’s 1.2-per cent population growth was still slightly above B.C. rate of 1.1 per cent. Alberni-Clayoquot, Comox Valley and Capital regional districts were the Island’s fastest-growing regions at 1.3 per cent last year, with Nanaimo and Strathcona close behind at 1.2 per cent.