Greater Victoria is facing an employment “crisis” and it will take a multi-pronged attack to deal with it, according to a human resources consultant.
Statistics Canada reported the country had an unemployment rate of 5.7 per cent — a 40-year low — in December and that Victoria now has the second-lowest unemployment rate in the country at 3.4 per cent.
Frank Bourree, principal of Chemistry Consulting in Victoria, said inaction is not an option as businesses scramble to attract workers.
“This can only be solved through immigration, workforce housing and better transportation and daycare, or it’s only going to get worse, because I don’t see the economy going south anytime soon,” said Bourree.
His firm oversees Work B.C.’s employment centres.
“It is a crisis. We have been tracking this for the last six years and our caseloads have been dropping dramatically, and they took a real dip last year.”
Bourree said a booming economy that has raised most sectors and a shift in demographics as Baby Boomers continue to leave the workforce has played a role in exacerbating the problem of finding workers.
“And in each of the sectors, we are not getting migration from other provinces anymore because they are doing well,” Bourree said. He noted that potential workers are also put off by the cost of housing in Victoria, as well as barriers such as lack of childcare spaces and overburdened transportation infrastructure. “Here, the workforce is in the West Shore and the work is downtown.”
The biggest issue, however, is that immigration has not kept pace with the shrinking workforce, said Bourree, noting some effort has been made to open the gates. “It’s now easier to bring skilled workers, but harder to bring in two-year temporary foreign workers and to be honest, that’s what we need.”
Victoria’s 3.4 per cent unemployment rate represents a slight change from the 3.3 per cent recorded in November, and is well off the 5.0 noted in December 2016. According Statistics Canada, the total number of people employed in Victoria increased to 193,300 in December, up from 186,600 in December 2016, while the Greater Victoria labour force grew to 200,100 from 196,500 the year before.
While the unemployment rate is very low, it’s still well off the lowest Victoria has seen. In May 2008, the rate hit 2.8 per cent.
“I would say [the lack of skilled workers] isn’t a 2017 or 2018 problem, but it’s been an ongoing challenge for the growing tech companies in Victoria,” said Dan Gunn, chief executive of the Victoria Innovation, Advanced Technology and Entrepreneurship Council. “To find skilled and experienced talent has been difficult and it’s probably the biggest thing holding back growth.”
Gunn said while the city — and tech sector in particular — has never focused as much attention on the problem as now, it still has to compete with a strong national economy that demands workers.
Locally, the tech sector has seen steady demand for workers. The VIATEC job board has posted more than 1,100 jobs over the last year and has consistently had about 100 jobs on its board each month. “When the economy was overheating in 2007, we saw between 140 and 170 jobs, and we don’t want to see that again, so we have to keep working to attract more people,” Gunn said.
Statistics Canada’s survey found that the biggest gains over the last year were seen in retail and wholesale trade, which boasted 26,500 jobs in December, up from 24,000 the year previous. The finance, insurance and real estate sector added 2,300 new positions and the accommodation and food-services sector added 3,500 positions.
Those gains were offset by a decline in the business, building and support-services sector, shedding 4,600 positions since December 2016, and information, culture and recreation sector, losing 2,000 positions.
Canada’s low unemployment rate was due to 13 straight months of job creation, but it has economists warning it could push the Bank of Canada to raise its key overnight interest rate by 25 basis points later this month to 1.25 per cent.
Statistics Canada reported the largest employment gains in December were observed in Quebec and Alberta, with the former adding 27,000 jobs for a 4.9 per cent unemployment rate and the latter generating 26,000 jobs for a rate of 6.9 per cent.
B.C. closed out the year with an employment growth rate of 3.4 per cent, with 83,000 additional jobs, with almost all of the gains in full-time jobs.
In the 12 months to December, the unemployment rate in B.C. fell by 1.2 percentage points to 4.6 per cent, the lowest among all provinces.
Job-creation numbers follow Canadian economic signals that have been positive for some time, said TD Economics senior economist Brian DePratto.
“If you go back and look at the economic growth figures Canada was putting out late last year, early this year, we saw very, very robust growth across effectively all sectors of the economy,” he said. “I think to some extent we’re seeing catch-up activity from the output of the economy on the employment side.”
Matthew Stewart, director of national forecast for the Conference Board of Canada, said he is concerned about a tight labour market going forward but added business should be pleased with wage increases shown by the statistics. “Slower, more sustainable job growth is in store for the year ahead,” he said in a statement.
A look at December employment (previous month in parentheses):
Unemployment rate5.7% (5.9)
Employment rate62% (61.8)
Labour force participation rate65% (65.7)
Number unemployed1,130,400 (1,156,500)
Number working18,647,500 (18,568,900)
Youth (15-24 years) unemployment rate10.3% (10.8)
Men (25 plus) unemployment rate5.2% (5.3)
Women (25 plus) unemployment rate4.8% (4.8)
The jobless rates last month by province (previous month in parentheses):
Newfoundland 14.7% (14.4)
Prince Edward Island 9.8 (8.8)
Nova Scotia 8.0 (8.8)
New Brunswick 7.8 (8.3)
Quebec 4.9 (5.4)
Ontario 5.5 (5.5)
Manitoba 5.7 (5.4)
Saskatchewan 6.4 (6.0)
Alberta 6.9 (7.3)
British Columbia 4.6 (4.8)
Three-month moving average unemployment rates for major cities (previous month in parentheses):
St. John’s, N.L. 8.2% (8.5)
Halifax 6.9 (7.2)
Moncton, N.B. 5.7 (6.3)
Saint John, N.B. 6.1 (6.8)
Quebec 3.9 (4.4)
Sherbrooke, Que. 5.9 (5.7)
Trois-Rivieres, Que. 4.5 (5.0)
Montreal 6.1 (6.6)
Gatineau, Que. 5.0 (5.4)
Ottawa 5.7 (5.9)
Kingston, Ont. 5.6 (5.8)
Peterborough, Ont. 4.9 (5.4)
Oshawa, Ont. 5.5 (5.4)
Toronto 6.0 (5.9)
Hamilton, Ont. 4.6 (4.2)
St. Catharines-Niagara, Ont. 6.8 (7.1)
Brantford, Ont. 4.7 (4.8)
Guelph, Ont. 6.1 (6.7)
London, Ont. 6.2 (6.3)
Windsor, Ont. 6.1 (6.3)
Barrie, Ont. 3.3 (3.4)
Sudbury, Ont. 6.7 (6.2)
Thunder Bay, Ont. 6.3 (6.1)
Winnipeg 5.6 (5.7)
Regina 4.7 (4.8)
Saskatoon 7.6 (7.6)
Calgary 7.5 (7.8)
Edmonton 7.5 (7.8)
Kelowna, B.C. 6.3 (6.1)
Abbotsford, B.C. 4.7 (4.9)
Vancouver 4.1 (4.2)
Victoria 3.4 (3.3)