More than half of Revelstoke businesses are having trouble finding workers, according to the recently released Labour Market Survey.
That finding is one of many in the comprehensive survey of the local labour market conducted last winter by Garry Pendergast and Janet Lemieux for the City of Revelstoke.
“It was no surprise it’s becoming harder and harder to find workers and retain them,” said Alan Mason, the city’s director of economic development. “I think that’s because there’s lots of opportunities in nearby provinces that pay higher wages.”
The survey was launched last fall in an attempt to get an accurate profile of the city’s labour market, determine future labour market needs, find out how businesses attract and keep employees, and determine future training needs of the workforce.
In order to find answers, Lemieux and Pendergast interviewed 143 business owners and managers representing 150 businesses. They tracked 3,643.5 different positions out of an estimated workforce of 4,850 people. All major local employers were interviewed, including Downie Timber, CP Rail, Revelstoke Mountain Resort, Interior Health, Parks Canada, the City of Revelstoke, the Revelstoke School District and BC Hydro. Only employers, and not employees, were interviewed — a shortcoming recognized by the report authors.
Overall, a key message in the survey is that the labour market is tightening.
The tourism sector employs the most people as a whole, with 30.4 per cent of surveyed positions in food & beverage, accommodation and tourism services. Government jobs make up 22.3 per cent of the work force, while forestry is third, representing 19.2 per cent of the workforce.
There’s good news in the report. Almost half the businesses in town expect their staffing levels to remain the same in the next five years, while 45 per cent forecast expansion. Forestry, food & beverage, tourism and construction are expected to see the biggest job growth.
As well, Revelstoke isn’t expected to face the same labour crunch as the Baby Boomer’s retire. More than half the workforce is between the ages of 25 to 44, and less than 10 per cent is between the ages of 55 to 64.
“Revelstoke’s labour challenges will likely lie in the fierce competition for the same pool of talented workers with other regions as statisticians say that for every two baby boomers who retire, there is less than one worker to replace them,” the report states.
There is also good job stability in Revelstoke; more than half of all positions in town are full time. Fifteen per cent of jobs are for the winter season, reflecting the growth of the winter tourism market.
The bad news is that finding workers is becoming an increasing challenge, with more than half the businesses in town saying they have trouble attracting or keeping workers.
“Many of the difficulties focused on finding seasonal workers, but often business owners (72%) stated that there were simply not enough applicants to choose from when posting for positions,” the report states. “Other issues centred on applicants’ lack of experience, skill, and training along with the businesses owners’ ability to offer competitive wages.”
The high cost of living in Revelstoke is also cited as an issue.
Occupations with the highest turnover were almost all low-paying service sector jobs such as cashiers, kitchen employees, and servers. General labourers and health care workers also had high turnover.
Positions that are difficult to fill include truck drivers, machine operators, bicycle mechanics, housekeepers, heavy duty mechanics, kitchen staff, and building construction.
The survey looks at how businesses hire and how they keep staff around. Businesses prefer to hire local workers, and word-of-mouth and employee referral are often used as they best way to hire people. They also used WorkBC, Facebook, the Stoke List and the Review to post job ads.
Job flexibility was considered a key for retention, along with making workers feel part of the team and appreciated.
Naturally, good pay was regarded as very important. The survey found that 28.9 per cent of jobs paid more than $30 per hour, but 27.1 per cent payed less than $15 per hour. Most jobs paid more than $20 per hour.
Recommendations for the future
The Labour Market Survey lays out seven goals for the future. The first goal is to promote Revelstoke as a place to do business and work. This includes two objectives of maintaining a diverse economy and supporting existing businesses.
The second goal is to help businesses with their hiring needs. 91 per cent of employers said the would take part in a collaborative initiative that promoted retention and attraction strategies. The third goal was to do a better job promoting job openings.
The fourth goal was to “support a responsive and sustainable approach to immigration.” This includes raising awareness of various immigration programs such as the Provincial Nominee Program and the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program. In both those cases, employers said the programs were bogged down by bureaucratic delays, making it difficult to take advantage them to hire people. “Businesses who require workers, usually need them urgently, or at least need to be aware of the processing time, so they can plan accordingly,” the report states.
The report recommends lobbying the government to improve these programs. It also recommends providing support services to immigrant workers.
The fifth goal is to “realize the full potential of Revelstoke’s current workforce.” The report recommends getting more women, mature workers, youth, disabled and First Nations into the labour market.
The sixth goal involves retention of skilled employees. This includes providing year-round opportunities for seasonal workers, reducing the number of high turnover jobs, and promoting retention strategies.
The seventh goal is to improve training to meet current and future skill demands. One of the specific recommendations here is to establish a culinary arts school at the Revelstoke Secondary through Okanagan College.
Work is already underway to implement the recommendations in the Labour Market Survey. Alan Mason said that a stakeholder group has been established through WorkBC. “Now that it’s complete we’re going to sit down and look at the all the actions and recommendations and coordinate it through the labour market network,” he said.
Immigration challenges were raised as a key issue to address.
“The one thing that stood out to us that solidified our frustration to is the provincial nomination program and the TFW program,” said Judy Goodman, the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce.
Mason said it would take lobbying to fix the programs to make them more useful for employers looking to recruit foreign workers.
As well, Community Futures is embarking on a living wage study to look at the feasibility of increasing wages at lower paying jobs. “This living wage research we’re just starting to do will be interesting,” said Mason. “We want that driven by business. We want to make the business case that if you pay your employee a living wage, does that make sense?”