B.C.’s Labour Market: Talent Grab

In the late 1990s, a few lonely voices warned that there were going to be severe labour shortages in B.C. within a decade. Demographic trends, which included the aging of the baby boomers and the small generation-X cohort that followed them, meant a hollowing out of the labour market was coming.

And if the economy started picking up, there was going to be trouble. However, in 2000 and 2001, the widely held belief was that there would always be more people than jobs, so pas de problème.


The Cassandras were right, and their predictions have come true. Today, for the first time in generations, there are more jobs than there are people. As a result, everyone today is complaining about labour shortages. The B.C. technology sector needs more than 10,000 people and can’t find them. The transportation industry is facing a critical shortage of drivers. Canadian small businesses claim they have almost 400,000 jobs they can’t fill. Half the workers in the mining industry, booming again in a commodity supercycle after a long dormancy, are set to retire soon, leading to a critical shortage of talent. And most of those workers out there are pretty choosy, demanding work-life balance and opportunities to learn and grow in their jobs.


One small Vancouver company operating in a ground zero of labour shortages doesn’t seem to be having any trouble attracting talent. In fact, Rimfire Minerals Corp. has people asking to work for them. Rimfire’s secret is an innovative business model that takes advantage of a changing business landscape and also emphasizes intellectual growth among its tiny cohort of seven full-time employees. When it began in 2001, Rimfire founder Dave Caulfield decided that, rather than compete with other mining explorers who hunt for minerals and then try to develop a mine, his company would be a pure-play group of geologists who partner with mid-tier and large mining companies to identify promising gold properties.

These partners are quite willing to outsource their important geology work because they’ve been jettisoning some traditional functions as labour shortages bite deeper. The old vertically integrated mining company model is fracturing, so Rimfire acts as an expertise-based outsource that concentrates on one thing: geology. The drilling, outfitting, operation of mining camps and other chores involved in mining are done by other companies.

This focus on one skill, says Jason Weber, 37, who was Rimfire’s first employee and is now its CEO, helps the company fit with the new realities of the geology game – that there’s a big geologist gap because most generation Xers avoided that particular calling during the long mining slump. Most geologists today are either 45 years and older, or are recent graduates who like the science and are attracted as much by learning opportunities as by money. Rimfire’s lean, rifle-shot strategic thinking, which it borrowed from other industries such as biotechnology, lures the best and brightest young geologists because they can concentrate on science instead of management.

“We’re known for the strength of our technology, which offers a learning environment that attracts the young people coming out of school and in the early stages of their career,” he explains. “We don’t look for them; they come to us. The last four people we hired sought us out.” In another iteration of that strategic thinking, Caulfield, hardly an oldster at 48, groomed Weber for years to succeed him late last year. “We’re in growth mode and we need a young person to lead a young staff,” explains the Rimfire chair, who now concentrates on business development and is, in a sense, an employee of his first employee.


• Focus. Working a strong niche, preferably as a source of specialized expertise, allows you to run a lean shop and avoid having to hire large numbers of people.

• Outsource. Hire only for your core business and outsource everything else.

• Plan. Look three to five years ahead and plan for orderly growth, which includes the succession of regular workers as well as management.