Victoria employers looking for new ways to attract and keep workers

Competition to snap up employees in the capital region and elsewhere on Vancouver Island is so stiff that employers are developing new strategies to attract workers.

Greater Victoria has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Canada; it was just five per cent in October, Statistics Canada said, behind only Guelph, Ont., and Vancouver.

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Look around the region and you’ll see help wanted signs posted in many business windows. Opportunities are available in a range of sectors, such as public administration where 3,700 new jobs were created in the past year.

Construction, high-tech, and the restaurant sector are all mapping out plans to attract and retain more workers.

The Vancouver Island Construction Association is offering a free six-week program for young people to deliver basic training and certifications that will get them started on a work site.

Open to 15- to 19-year-olds, it has slots for a new government-funded Youth Constructing a Future program, starting Monday. Two more six-week programs will be offered after this one. It includes meeting with employers and visits to work sites.

This is the latest step in a years-long campaign to attract people to trades at a time when B.C.’s economy is growing. Jobs are driven by hundreds of millions of dollars worth of projects such as high-rise condominiums, B.C. Hydro projects, new up-Island hospitals and military construction.

The program is hoping to tap into unemployed young people between 15 and 24 years old in B.C. “We are still at a 14 per cent unemployment rate [in B.C. for young people], which is troubling,” said Greg Baynton, president of the Island Construction Association.

B.C. needs 17,000 new entrants to the trades over the next nine years, he said. Of those, 15 to 20 per cent will be required on the Island.

While the B.C. Construction Association said the average yearly wage of construction workers is $57,700, Baynton thinks that is a conservative figure.

Workers who have completed apprenticeships can earn $25 to $35 per hour, plus benefits. Baynton said some trades, such as mechanical and carpentry, earn in the $70,000 to $80,000 per year range as employers respond to the tight labour market.

Some workers have moved to B.C. from Alberta but while that helps the shortfall in employees, not all skills can be directly transferred, Baynton said. “It’s just a completely different environment.”

In the high-tech sector, with its estimated 23,000 workers in Greater Victoria, employers are always on the hunt for experienced senior talent. “It’s not a new story,” said Dan Gunn, executive director of the Victoria Innovation, Advanced Technology and Entrepreneurship Council.

Local post-secondary institutions funnel students and graduates to the tech sector. The capital region’s livability is among attractions that will pull experienced people here. And while locals complain about high housing prices, Victoria falls below other major cities, Gunn said. A lower cost of living, less commuting and lower health costs compared with the U.S. are among other advantages.

The council is working on additional human resources training for its members to help them attract workers, including ways to lure people from the Lower Mainland, he said. These programs will be rolled out in the new year.

At Victoria’s Latitude Geographics on Wharf Street, founder and CEO Steven Myhill-Jones said its latest job postings reflect company’s growth. The 17-year-old firm, supplying web-based maps for clients in Canada and internationally, has 130 employees.

It attracts staff and retains staff with competitive compensation. Latitude is dedicated to making a difference in the world, meaning employees can be proud of what they do, he said.

The other factor in retaining workers is a strong company culture. This includes company-supplied healthy snacks, a patio, yoga twice a week, continuing education, opportunities for advancement, and the chance to travel for work. As well, “we have a bottomless budget for books,” Myhill-Jones said.

The B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association is talking with provincial officials about how to attract and keep workers, with pilot programs also expected in the new year, said Ian Tostenson, the organization’s president and CEO.

A shortage of workers is “serious all throughout the province,” he said. The sector has 180,000 employees in B.C.

He anticipates projects will be launched early in 2017. This may mean the sector may have to rethink its business model by offering more stability in hours for workers and better benefits. It is smaller business that are affected the most, he said.


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Immigrants seen as key to building labour force: employers


Look at B.C. student numbers to get a picture of what this province can expect as the number of home-grown workers shrinks.

The solution is immigration, said Ian Powell, of the Inn at Laurel Point and a member of the board of directors of the B.C. Hotel Association.

B.C. Ministry of Education numbers show that fewer young people will be entering the labour market in coming years, he said.

“This is not a one-year thing,” Powell said.

Education Ministry figures state there were 60,294 Grade 12 students in the 2015-2016 school year. That’s down from 64,105 Grade 12 students in the 2011-2012 year.

Grade 12 enrolment is apt to drop much lower judging by the count for Grade 7. There were 44,952 Grade 7 students in 2015-2016, down from from 45,229 in 2011-2012.

This past summer delivered a bounty of business but hotels struggled with finding enough workers, Powell said.

Some colleagues elsewhere in B.C. had to close part of their businesses because of staff shortages, he said.

“Nobody’s got to that stage in Victoria because Victoria has a bit more attractiveness.

“But we can’t get complacent because every year it is getting worse.”

When hoteliers met after the summer season, the word was that many just squeezed by with the staff they were able to get, he said. Changing demographics, such as retiring baby boomers, add to the crunch. “How do you fill the gap? You fill the gap with immigration.”

The hotel industry is among the sectors seeking to attract workers, he said.

“We are now fishing constantly from a smaller pool.”

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