Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Data points: Labour remains the top issue for B.C. small and medium-sized businesses

The seasonally adjusted job vacancy rate in B.C. was 5.3 per cent in February
Labour remains the top issue for B.C. small and medium-sized businesses

B.C. employers added to payrolls in February for a fourth consecutive month of increases.

The latest Survey of Employers, Payroll and Hours (SEPH) reported a seasonally adjusted increase of 0.5 per cent (13,684 people) month to month, pushing the total job count in B.C. to 2.53 million persons.

Labour Force Survey (LFS) estimates report a gain of 6,700 people (0.2 per cent) during the same month. Both surveys reflect a steady upward trend and a tight labour market despite predictions of a future economic downturn. In B.C., the seasonally adjusted job vacancy rate was 5.3 per cent, representing 134,935 unfilled positions.

February’s job gains were observed in both goods-producing and service-producing sectors, with each increasing 0.7 per cent and 0.6 per cent, respectively. Educational services (3,418 people), together with the trade services sector (3,031 people), contributed most to the monthly employment gain and offset the small losses seen by other services, which declined by 413 people. Employment in goods-producing industries saw gains in construction (2,003 people) and manufacturing (1,071 people).

On the wage front, seasonally adjusted average weekly earnings jumped 1.8 per cent to $1,175.13 on a year-over-year basis, which is lower than last month’s 2.1-per-cent increase. Month over month, average weekly earnings declined 0.4 per cent in February.

Confidence amongst B.C. small and medium-scale enterprises (SME) edged up further in April, according to the Business Barometer survey released last week by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. The long-term index rose to 57.7 points, ahead of the 53.8 points recorded in the previous month and above the index’s neutral benchmark of 50 points. The short-term, three-month-index also increased to 55.1 points from 51.9 points over the previous month. B.C. small businesses are showing mild optimism but are still distressed by economic headwinds, considering higher operating costs and an uncertain economic future.

Regarding general business indicators, a greater number of small businesses plan to expand full-time staff, while only 32 per cent of B.C. SMEs consider themselves to be in a good state of business health. The lack of skilled and unskilled labour was the most concerning issue for the majority of small businesses. Shortages of working capital, insufficient demand and time constraints were additional factors limiting sales and production growth. Wages were the greatest input cost constraint for SMEs. Fuel, tax and insurance costs were also on the growing list of cost constraints.

Nationally, most survey respondents deemed their business health to be “satisfactory,” but the number of respondents who reported their general business situation as “bad” increased from 17.7 per cent to 20.5 per cent during the month. A greater proportion of owners expect their business to be performing at about the same level or more strongly in 12 months. Small businesses plan on increasing their average price charged over the next 12 months by 3.5 per cent; the plans for an average wage increase lagged at 3.3 per cent, reflecting wage stickiness. Price and wage increase plans in 2023 are trending lower than the peak figures seen in the first half of 2022.

Broadly, optimism amongst Canadian small businesses showed slight improvement in April as the long-term index rose 0.4 points to 55.7 points and the short-term index increased from 52.2 points to 53.9 points. Canadian small business expectations are being tempered by greater borrowing costs and elevated expenses amidst a tight labour market.

Bryan Yu is chief economist at  Central 1.