Immigration key to make up for impact of low birth rates on Vancouver Island

This is part three of CTV News Vancouver Island's three-part series Shifting Focus: Families, Fertility and the Future.

As B.C.’s workforce ages, the province anticipates 160,000 jobs will open in the next decade. It hopes 20,000 of those positions will be filled by people from other countries, and the challenge may not be finding qualified workers, but rather encouraging them to stay.

“When immigrants come here, they are looking for a better life,” says Humaira Ahmed.

The North Saanich tech start-up founder and CEO moved to Canada from Pakistan in 2005. Her family immigrated to Toronto, and she later moved to Vancouver, then Victoria. She says the lack of diversity on Vancouver Island was a difficult adjustment.

“It’s truly your network is your net worth here and that’s one of the biggest challenges when you’re new to a country,” says Ahmed. “I would say until I started my company, until I started to win awards – nobody cared. It’s really hard to break in.”

It’s a heartbreaking revelation as government eyes immigration to help address shortages in our labour market, which are partly a result of declining birth rates.

“We have more jobs than people and we expect that to be a challenge for the years ahead,” says Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation Ravi Kahlon.

Ahmed is happy to hear the province is trying to recruit thousands more immigrants to help fill positions, but she says leaders need to be mindful of making sure a community is set up to help encourage newcomers to stay.

“That’s where I’ve had issues and challenges,” she says. “One of the things I’ve been saying for years is, ‘I want to move back to Toronto.’”

The South Island Prosperity Partnership shares the concern. Economic developer Dallas Gislason says city centers like Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal have large, diverse, in-depth support systems in place for newcomers, and we need to build more supports in this area.

“The research shows in organizations like McKinsey and academic research has showed that diverse organizations actually outperform homogenous organizations substantially,” adds Gislason.

Ahmed’s business is called Locelle. It focuses on advancing the careers of women and other under-represented groups in tech. She says opportunity and community are paramount.

“I do think it’s a systems thing too, where we can educate women and under-represented communities as much as we want,” she says. “But if the systems are not changing, the leadership is not changing, we can only move the needle so far.”