Which is it: too few jobs, or too few people?

Two different memes are making the rounds these days. Let’s try and net them out.

On the one hand, growth is getting ever harder to come by. More and more of us are getting older: 2013 is the year in Canada when the number of over-55s exceeds the number of under-25s for the first time in history. Half a million of us turn 60 this year. And next, and in 2015, and each year thereafter until we’re into the 2020s. Most of these expect to have to keep working well into their late 70s; most of their employers see their “end of career” pay scales and are planning the early retirement buyouts even as we speak.

Meanwhile, they’re not necessarily replaced. So the young find getting work a challenge. It all ends up looking like too few jobs.

Now the other hand: for a decade now the evidence that we don’t have the people we need to fill jobs has existed. British Columbia’s finance minister of the day, Carole Taylor, issued a report to this effect in 2006, pointing out that there’d be a 35 per cent gap between qualified individuals to fill jobs and jobs open by 2015. It only gets worse from there.

Now qualified, in this case, often points to specific educational paths. Oddly enough, journalism, business management, law, social work, and a host of other fields popular in universities didn’t make the cut. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics did. So did health care.

But it also points to having people where they’re needed. BC Hydro, for instance, has struggled with having ten per cent and more of its positions open constantly now for years. Most of those, in turn, are in rural areas: you have to run power lines everywhere, even when over eighty per cent of the population lives in just a few major metropolitan areas. So you end up with jobs going begging in the middle of nowhere while people in the suburbs can’t find work.

There are, of course, reasons why folks don’t flock to take that linesman’s job in Fort Nelson, Vanderhoof, Cranbrook, Bountiful or Port Hardy, and it’s not because these can’t be delightful places to live. It’s because parents want their children to have advantages, and rural schools seldom offer the range of options that a city school does. eLearning can only go so far in offering course options: ultimately, the special programs aren’t found where population isn’t. Likewise, the top coaches, the range of after-school programs, and the like — all important in getting a student pointed toward the best universities in the world — aren’t often found where people aren’t.

(Let’s not also point out that trekking hundreds of kilometres when you need something beyond the basics from the store — and it’s hard to deal with Internet shopping when you don’t know what you want — and the lack of theatre, nightspots and the like can put a little strain on a family as well. Not to mention that rural living is far too often a “junk your career aspirations, dear” experience…)

So, in your own diligence efforts, which future matters more? The one with too few jobs (and a need to work) or the one where jobs go begging and can’t be filled?

You see, they’re both right, simultaneously. Plan accordingly.

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