As pandemic restrictions wane, labour shortage persists for B.C. businesses

A labour shortage in B.C. means it's a good time if you are looking for a job or looking to change jobs. As Aaron McArthur reports, struggling businesses are offering generous incentives to hire and keep workers and even that is not enough.

Sunrise Kitchens needs a handful of new staff members, but like other B.C. businesses wading through a labour shortage, for the past few months, it has had trouble finding them.

“Definitely I haven’t seen a market like this that’s just so not stable,” said Amrita Bhogal, human resources manager for the Surrey-based kitchen cabinet manufacturer.

“We hire people and sometimes they don’t even show up to their first day of work.”

The family-run company has between 140 and 150 regular employees, but unlike larger companies, it can’t afford to offer lucrative hiring bonuses or other costly incentives. Instead, Boghal said the business focuses on a positive, family working environment, and opportunities for training and career advancement that come with increases.

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According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), as of December last year, 59 per cent of small businesses in B.C. were experiencing a labour shortage — the fourth-highest rate in Canada.

The gap has a KFC in Nanaimo offering a $500 sign-on bonus, and help for new hires who need work visas or want permanent residency. The Super Save Group has also offered a $10,000 signing bonus for long haul truck drivers willing to make trips to Kamloops and Langley.

In October last year, a Vancouver restaurant made headlines for offering a $50,000-salary for a new dishwasher.

Annie Dormuth, B.C. provincial affairs director for the CFIB, said despite such incentives, the majority of its members have not been able to attract the workers they need. Right now, 90 per cent of its small business members are reporting difficulties finding staff.

“Some of them have tried using hiring incentives or increasing wages, but only around five and 20 per cent respectively actually found those types of actions to encourage more applications and to fix their shortage of labour issues,” she told Global News.

“Again it all comes down to having troubles having the right candidates or the qualifications for the position, which is leaving business owners in a very difficult position right now of wanting to expand their operations to go alongside again, with restrictions being removed across the province.”

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Complicating matters, she added, is inflation — creating a pricing “pinch” that no one is immune to. The federal and provincial governments could assist, she added, by keeping costs down for businesses.

“We did get some positive news from the federal budget just recently with regards to expanding the temporary foreign worker program to address the labour market needs in those accommodation, hospitality and restaurant industries,” she said.

“Those of course have been the hardest-hit from the pandemic and are reporting the most labour shortage issues.”

The changes announced prior to the budget release this month will allow employers to hire foreign workers for more low-wage jobs, and in areas where the unemployment rate remains high. Higher-wage, highly-skilled workers will also be able to secure three years of employment eligibility instead of two, which Ottawa said would create an easier path to permanent residency.

Dormuth said she hopes the changes are in place by the time B.C.’s upcoming tourism season kicks off.

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Meanwhile, Surrey Board of Trade president and CEO Anita Huberman said the federal government needs to do all it can to prepare newcomers to Canada for the realities of the labour market, including the training they might need and the jobs they will qualify for.

“This is a global war for talent. I’ve been out of the country for the past two weeks and definitely this is not a phenomenon even just in Canada,” she said. “This is not always going to be an employee’s market, I think there needs to be a win-win between employees and employers.”

Ottawa also hopes to welcome 431,645 new permanent residents this year, 447,055 in 2023, and 451,000 in 2024.

“I think bringing people from different parts of the world could definitely be one strategy to resolve our labour challenges here,” said Bhogal at Sunrise Kitchens.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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