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2021 Census: Higher education and remote workers among Nelson residents

The final Statistics Canada census release reveals the city’s education levels and labour data
Selkirk College’s Silver King Campus is seen here in Nelson. The 2021 census shows an overall increase in residents who have completed post-secondary education. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Nelson residents are better educated than they were five years ago, and increasingly inclined to work from home.

The final 2021 census data release from Statistics Canada shows 6,090 people ages 15 and older living in Nelson have a post-secondary certificate, diploma or degree, an increase of 790 residents since the 2016 census.

The biggest change in education is the amount of residents who hold a bachelor’s degree. There are 2,075 people with some type of degree, up from 1,465 people five years prior. In Canada, the number of working-age people with a bachelor’s degree or higher rose to 32.9 per cent.

There are also 1,880 people with diplomas, not surprising given Selkirk College is the West Kootenay’s only college.

The census shows 715 people have an apprenticeship or trades certificate, 700 have a masters’ degree and 100 have a doctorate.

Selkirk College president Maggie Matear speculated the increases may be related to the COVID-19 pandemic and an ensuing migration of educated people from urban to rural areas. A previous census release showed Nelson’s population, which rose to over 11,000, features a growing demographic of affluent single and two-person households.

But she also thinks the census is revealing a local and national demand in the economy for educated Canadians.

“I suspect it’s more to do with the increasing need that we have for healthcare professionals, STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics], knowledge economy-type professionals that require that degree.”

For people ages 25 to 64, the most popular field of study falls within the business, management, marketing and related support services category. That includes 745 people, up from 460 in 2016.

Other top fields include health professionals (550 people), visual and performing arts (320) and education (250).

The way people work is also changing.

When the census was taken during the COVID-19 pandemic, Nelson had 1,215 people working from home. That is a considerable increase from the 590 people working at home five years later and follows provincial and national trends.

In 2021, there were nearly 550,000 British Columbians working from home compared to 196,000 in 2016, while nationally there was a 16.9 per cent increase in remote workers.

Tom Thomson, executive director of the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce, said he believes the pandemic inflated those numbers. Local businesses have reported to Thomson that remote workers are slowly returning back to offices.

“If you did a census next year, I think those numbers would come back down, but not to the point where they were non-existent. I think we already had a good number of people working from home and home-based businesses.”

Among the population of people ages 15 and older, 5,635 people were employed, 590 were unemployed and 2,955 weren’t in the labour force.

Of those who were in the labour force, 2,500 had full-time jobs and 3,730 worked part time or part of the year. That includes 775 people who are on casual, seasonal or short-term positions lasting less than one year.

Nelson saw a rise in people who are self employed, up 230 to 1,395, which Matear says can be related to the increase of residents with education in business.

“I think there might be a growing interest in creating your own stability, creating your own business opportunity, becoming an entrepreneur, and getting away from that gig economy and having some control over your own destiny,” she said.

The biggest employment sector is in sales and service, which saw an increase of 325 people to 1,720. The next popular category was 890 people employed in trades, transport, and as equipment operators. That’s followed by 870 people working in business, finance or administration.

There was little change to how people commute to work in Nelson.

Of the 4,415 residents who said they travel to work, there were minor decreases in the number of drivers (2,590) and walkers (1,045).

Only 250 people use a bicycle, which was up from 235, while just 85 rely on public transit. Public transit use was also down across Canada — only one million commuters used a bus or train last year, a nearly 50 per cent drop from 2016.

In Nelson, those numbers could be more weighted toward cyclists and walkers in the future. In August 2021, after the census was taken, the city opened its bike-friendly corridor on Third Street, Nelson Avenue and High Street. It also has plans to expand the corridor to the Rosemont neighbourhood.

Thomson said he thinks until it becomes more convenient to take a bus or cycle to work, cars will continue to be the preferred transportation method in Nelson.

“It’s more convenient to take a car that takes you five minutes to get to work than wait for a bus to go all the way around the City of Nelson. It may take 35 or 45 minutes or even one hour to come back and get you if you missed the first one. …

“I don’t think that those numbers are going to come screaming back up unless you make changes to the system to make it more convenient for people to use.”


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Tyler Harper

About the Author: Tyler Harper

I’m editor-reporter at the Nelson Star, where I’ve worked since 2015.
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