Worker retention a concern in tight job market

Greater Victoria’s unemployment rate dropped for a third straight month in September, meaning the region once again has the second lowest rate in Canada.

Statistics Canada’s labour force survey noted the region’s rate dropped to 3.2 per cent last month, down from 3.3 per cent in August and the 3.9 per cent measured in September last year.

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Quebec City continues to have the lowest rate in the country at three per cent.

The low rate and growing labour force — there are now 197,100 people available and able to work in the region, up from 196,300 at the same time last year — may be an indication of a healthy and diverse economy on one hand, but it is also a problem for employers.

It is moving in the wrong direction, said Catherine Holt, chief executive of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce.

Holt said the issue of attracting and retaining workers has become the single most important issue for local business owners.

“There is no magic bullet. There are a whole lot of moving parts that all have to be part of a solution, and some of those are huge problems,” Holt said.

Holt said at a CEO roundtable session this week with 30 employers who run companies with more than 75 employees, attracting and retaining workers is once again top of the agenda. “There’s been no change, it’s still top of everyone’s mind,” she said, adding it always leads directly to the issue that is seen as the biggest obstacle in bringing workers to Victoria — affordable housing.

While all levels of government have implemented plans to deal with that issue, it has yet to translate into either the affordable housing problem or the employment one. The result, said Holt, is Victoria companies are putting expansion plans on hold.

“There are continual anecdotal concerns raised by chamber members about what they can’t do because they don’t have enough staff,” Holt said, noting that ranges from expanding the business, opening new locations, adding new service lines, and extending hours. “Most business owners have a view in mind of how they could expand ... the lack of workers is now the constraint.”

Statistics Canada noted some industries in the region managed to grow over the last year, with the accommodation and foodservice industry now employing 15,200, up from 14,200 in September 2018, and the public administration industry now employing 28,100 in the region up from 19,900.

Vincent Ferrao of Statistics Canada said the bulk of that administration expansion was in the provincial government.

The industries that shed the most jobs over the last 12 months were retail and wholesale trade, which dropped 4,400 positions, and healthcare and social assistance, which shed 5,400.

Bruce Ralston, B.C.’s minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology, said the September survey, which showed B.C.’s unemployment rate holding steady at 4.8 per cent, is a sign the economy is resilient.

Canada’s unemployment rate nudged down to a near four-decade low last month as the economy added more jobs than analysts expected — dropping an economic figure into a tight electoral race, and warnings from economists that things may not be as rosy as they seem.

Statistics Canada’s monthly labour force survey showed the country added about 54,000 net new jobs in September, driven largely by gains in full-time work, and dropping the jobless rate nationally by 0.2 points to 5.5 per cent.

The national statistics office said September’s jobs growth was largely concentrated in an expansion of public-sector staff and self-employed workers.

“Canada’s labour market has really been on a tear over the last year — job growth has been very strong,” said Josh Nye, senior economist with RBC Economics.

“Unemployment is low, wages are starting to pick up. Wage growth was really the missing ingredient in what looked like a pretty strong labour market backdrop last year.”

BMO chief economist Doug Porter said that despite the solid growth in job numbers over the last year, the broader economy remains lacklustre with year-over-year GDP growth crawling along at 1.3 per cent. “We’re getting the jobs gains, but it’s not really translating into the big gains in spending or the broader economy in terms of overall output gains,” Porter said. “So I wouldn’t say the overall picture is entirely rosy, but it’s still, I’d regard, as encouraging that we’re continuing to churn out job increases.”

— with files from The Canadian Press

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