B.C. Employment Growth by Occupation -- The Long View

How has the labour market in British Columbia changed over the past thirty years? How has technology reshaped it? What occupations have shown the most and the least employment growth? A long-term perspective can help answer these questions -- and also allow us to see through the vicissitudes of the business cycle.

Over 1987-2017, the fastest-growing occupations in B.C. were in the following areas (Figure 1):

  • arts, culture, recreation and sport;
  • natural and applied sciences;
  • health;
  • education, law and social, community and government services; and
  • sales and service occupations.

Figure 1: B.C. Employment Growth by Occupation -- The Fastest Growing
1987 = 100

Source: CANSIM 282-0142.

By contrast, the slowest-growing occupations were in (Figure 2):

  • business, finance and administration;
  • trades, transport and equipment operators;
  • management[1];
  • manufacturing and utilities; and lastly,
  • natural resources, agriculture and related production occupations.

Figure 2: B.C. Employment Growth by Occupation -- The Slowest Growing
1987 = 100

Source: CANSIM 282-0142.

Of course, several structural factors (e.g. demographic change and trade liberalization) partly explain these shifts in occupational patterns; however, it is notable that the trends in B.C. employment appear consistent with the predicted effects of automation and technological change. The fastest-growing occupations have tended to be those that feature creative intelligence, social intelligence and/or the dexterity to perform irregular and sometimes awkward manual tasks. Technology appears to be labour-complementing for such occupations. In contrast, the slowest-growing occupations have tended to feature scope for the automation of repetitive and rules-based tasks or basic social interactions. Technology appears to be mostly labour-substituting for these types of occupations.

The fastest-growing and slowest-growing occupations are relatively small contributors to changes in total employment, however. Let’s look at the contributions to total job growth. Provincial employment has increased by 1.1 million over the past thirty years (Figure 3):

  • The three fastest-growing occupations added 273,000 positions or 25% of all of the jobs created.
  • The three slowest-growing occupations added just 84,000 positions or 8% of the jobs created.
  • The other four occupational groups added 732,000 positions, or 67% of total jobs created: sales and service; business finance and administration; trades, transport and equipment operations; and education, law and social, community and government services.
  • ‘Sales and service’ occupations were by far the largest driver of job growth, accounting for 2 of out every 7 new jobs in the province.

Figure 3: Two-thirds of New B.C. Jobs are in Four Occupations
Change in employed persons, by occupation, thousands

Source: CANSIM 282-0142.

What is the composition of the B.C. labour market by occupation in 2017 (Table 1)? The three fastest-growing occupations accounted for 18% of overall 2017 employment. Notwithstanding stagnant job growth, the three slowest-growing occupations accounted for a similar share of current jobs, at 14%. Together, these six occupational groups represented about one-third of 2017 provincial employment.

The lion’s share of B.C.’s workforce in 2017 can be found in four broad occupational groups: sales and service (26%); business finance and administration (16%); trades, transport and equipment operations (15%); and education, law and social, community and government services (10%). An upcoming blog will look at employment contributions by industry.

Table 1: B.C. Employment Growth (1987-2017)
and Employment Share, by Occupation

#Occupations in...Growth rate
Job growth
Share of
1Art, culture, recreation and sport196%624%
2Natural and applied sciences157%1027%
4Education, law and social, community
and government services
5Sales and service92%30726%
6Business, finance and administration66%16016%
7Trades, transport and equipment operators56%13515%
9Manufacturing and utilities18%144%
10Natural resources and agriculture2%12%
All occupations79%1,089100%
Source: CANSIM 282-0142.

For further reading, see our Human Capital Law and Policy publication for June 2018.

[1] Note that the largest sub-categories of “management” are managerial occupations in retail trade, wholesale trade, and restaurant and food service. These roles have seen extensive automation over recent decades.