Employers challenged in finding people

Some are more fortunate than others

The economic is slowly beginning to recover from the effects of the pandemic but in Houston and area, as is the case elsewhere across the country, some employers are having trouble finding people to fill vacant positions.

The shortage is broad-based and not restricted to just one sector of the economy.

One of the local hospitality and service industry employers, Pleasant Valley Branch 249 of the Royal Canadian Legion, is particularly disadvantaged because it is a non-profit enterprise, says branch executive secretary Joanne Woodbeck.

“We can’t afford to pay what other businesses might be able to pay,” she said of the branch’s ongoing search for food and bar tending staffers.

“We can’t afford to pay them what they should be paid,” Woodbeck added of hourly pay in the mid-$15 an hour range. “If I had the staff, I’d be open six days a week.”

The pandemic has also played a role as hospitality and service industry workers may not want to work in an occupation involving close contact daily with numerous members of the public, she added.

“People have just been discouraged; the [hospitality] industry has been hit the hardest,” Woodbeck.

There’s also the added stress of being put in the position of ensuring various public health orders are followed and dealing with members of the public who may not completely agree with those orders, she added.

At Tim Hortons, owner Tim Close also reports a difficulty in attracting employees to the outlet.

Lack of staff has meant a closure of its in-person dining section so that there are enough people to keep its drive-through operating, says Close who has about half of an idea complement of full and part time employees on the payroll.

“There’s definitely a shortage of people. We don’t get a lot of responses,” he says.

“We do have a lot of high school students and that’s been great,” Close added of the employees he does have.

The Tim Hortons outlet in Smithers, also owned by Close, is having the same challenges and he hears the same when on conference calls with other outlets.

“We’re all in the same boat,” he said.

Close, like Woodbeck from the legion, indicated government income support programs have achieved their purpose of helping people during the height of the pandemic and that it is time they were eliminated or scaled back.

Traction Tire’s Bill Woelders has been looking for two tire service people for months, but with no luck.

“I have four now and could use those two more but I just don’t get any applications,” he said.

Business has been consistently brisk all of this year and that’s meant the opportunity for over time by the people Woelders already has on staff.

“They’ve been very good in helping out with that,” he said in appreciating the cooperation of his long term employees.

As with Close from Tim Hortons and Woodbeck from the legion, Woelders says it’s time pandemic-related income support programs are dialed back.

Things are different at the Bulkley Valley Home Centre where Darrin Super says the outlet has been fortunate in having a steady staffing level this year.

He attributes that to working hard to develop a team attitude.

“I’m in the trenches with you,” Super says of the approach he takes where everyone pitches in when and where needed.

The outlet has also been fortunate in having a solid core of young people who work part time through their high school years.

“Some have been with us for four, five years. That’s fortunate,” said Super.

At the District of Houston, filling vacancies depends upon the position.

While the District is aware of skilled trades shortages, corporate services officer Holly Brown says it had no trouble in hiring a mechanic and an equipment operator this fall.

It’s a different story within the District’s leisure services department, particularly in finding lifeguards.

This fall, the leisure services centre had to trim opening hours because of a lifeguard shortage.

”It can be challenging to find people in northern B.C. that are already qualified and are looking for work as a lifeguard, so most of our recruitment starts from the ground up,” says leisure services director Cassie Ofner.

“The training and certifications involved in lifeguarding can be intense, but is well worth the effort, as a career in aquatics is very rewarding.”

A recruitment program this year resulted in six people, mostly high school students, signing up for a lifeguard training course. That training has now concluded and they’ve begun the next step which is working on their water safety instructor certificates.

“We hope to attract more adult applicants the next time we offer the lifeguard development program, as our current vacancies are during school hours,” said Ofner.

The Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline project has become the region’s prime economic driver with several thousand workers spread out along the construction route from northeastern B.C. to the LNG Canada liquefied natural gas facility under construction at Kitimat.

It was aware of the skilled labour shortage in B.C. even prior to the pandemic because of several major construction projects being underway and took measures to compensate, says company official Natasha Westover.

“We’ve emphasized recruiting locally as much as possible, but also hiring prime contractors with various labour affiliations to tap into the depth and breadth of the Canadian labour market,” she said.