Victoria’s labor market lacks talent

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The latest labor market snapshot shows Victoria’s unemployment rate remains one of the lowest in Canada and British Columbia is leading the pack in economic recovery, but it also paints a picture of a market that lacks talent.

With almost every industry on the hunt for talent, industry insiders say a sustained economic recovery from the COVID pandemic could be at risk if nothing is done to attract more people to the workforce.

“The biggest fear is that the recovery in tourism and other sectors will be slowed down and halted because there is not enough manpower to put us at full capacity,” said Bill Lewis, director General of the Magnolia Hotel and President of the Hotel Association of Greater Victoria.

Lewis said having to downsize operations when there is money to be made has a ripple effect, leading to job cuts and lost tax revenue.

It is an issue facing all sectors, although the labor-intensive hotel industry has felt it more than others as the economy rebounds from the pandemic.

“Companies are not in a position to realize the full extent of the recovery,” said Krista Bax, managing director of Go2HR, a human resources specialist for the tourism and hospitality industry in British Columbia.

Bax said hotels and restaurants have had to cut their hours, close certain days, block vacant rooms for days and weeks at a time and limit menus because they don’t have the staff to run the business. “It really hinders recovery efforts. “

Statistics Canada’s monthly Labor Force Survey showed Victoria’s unemployment rate remained at 4.2 percent in September, just behind Quebec City which had the lowest rate in the country at 4.1. percent. The national rate was 6.9 percent.

Victoria saw another wave of new jobs in the hospitality industry last month, which employed 16,100 workers, an increase of 6,500 from the same period last year.

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There has also been a jump in educational services over the past 12 months, with 18,900 employees in the sector, up from 14,300 in September 2020.

British Columbia Employment Minister Ravi Kahlon said the latest figures are a sign of a strong recovery, noting that the province has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Canada at 5, 9%.

He said the province created 12,300 jobs last month. Kahlon urged people to get vaccinated as a step towards normalcy and full recovery.

Bax said the recovery will be complicated, especially in tourism, which has lost nearly half of its 320,000 people within six weeks of the start of the pandemic.

Much of that has come back, she said, but over the past 20 months, many people have turned to less volatile careers. Bax said relief measures like the Canada Emergency Benefit, which offered $ 2,000 a month to those whose jobs were affected by COVID, gave people time to reassess their career paths and try something again.

The reputation of the hospitality industry has been damaged by shutdowns and starts due to public health orders, she said.

With all of British Columbia’s industries in search, attracting workers won’t be easy, Bax said.

Work has already been taxed by large numbers of baby boomers who retire each year, but with expanding industries and a strong economy, competition for workers is at its height.

Bax said the nonprofit sector was also hit hard and even Go2HR struggled to find staff. In addition to tapping into international sources, the hospitality industry must figure out what a new generation of workers wants, while also bringing back the waiting workers on the sidelines, Bax said.

Victoria’s tech sector has grown rapidly, which has led companies to search far and wide to fill vacancies.

Dan Gunn, managing director of the Victoria Innovation, Advanced Technology and Entrepreneurship Council, said VIATEC’s job board has seen an increase of around 25% in job listings in recent months.

The construction industry, which Statistics Canada now employs around 14,100 people, down from 17,000 in September last year, is also booming in Victoria, with many companies trying to hire. .

Rory Kulmala, general manager of the Vancouver Island Construction Association, said they have faced a shortage for years and have programs in place to engage young people and ensure that construction sites are supportive environments to retain workers. .

Kulmala said they will push governments to open up immigration to boost the workforce.

Lewis, of the hotel association, said the hospitality industry would like to see increased government investment in national training, as well as a focus on immigration, which plays a key role in ensuring the industry is well staffed.

Lewis said the lack of international students over the past 20 months has had an impact; many of these students had visas that allowed them to work.

He would also like to see an expansion and simplification of the temporary foreign worker program.

The Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria, which welcomes refugees through government programs, responded to requests from companies looking for workers.

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