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Prince George businesses facing labour shortage

P.G. Chamber of Commerce planning reports, tools to help local businesses tackle the issue
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Prince George businesses are facing a labour shortage, according to the Prince George Chamber of Commerce.

The Prince George Chamber of Commerce is working on a trio of projects to help local businesses find the workers they need to keep their doors open.

The chamber is preparing a report on the “war on talent,” chamber CEO Todd Corrigall said – the rising competition between employers for increasingly-scarce skilled workers. In addition, the chamber is hoping to identify what positions are most in demand in the city and, in partnership with WorkBC, create tools to help local businesses in their recruitment efforts.

Corrigall said the chamber plans to have the three initiatives ready to go by the end of March.

“Skilled trades have been challenged for a number of years now. Trades are still at a premium,” Corrigall said. “Professional services are being strained… (But) the largest sector being challenged is small business, food services. Small businesses are being leveraged out of the labour market.”

As of November, the city’s labour force participation rate – the number of working-age people employed or actively seeking work – stood at 67.8 per cent, Statistics Canada reported.

However, those numbers don’t tell the whole story, Corrigall said.

There has been a significant growth in government positions, which are drawing workers away from the private sector, he said. In addition, changing technology means local businesses aren’t just in competition with each other for workers.

“People are being recruited to work remotely,” Corrigall said. “There always seems to be a greener pasture.”

COVID fatigue could be a factor keeping some people out of the workforce, and while the pandemic has put a stop to hiring temporary foreign workers, he said.

Staffing challenges are putting pressure on businesses to offer higher wages, in some cases between one and nine per cent higher year-over-year, just to attract and keep employees, he said.

“That’s a significant number,” he said. “This is a perfect storm.”

Prince George isn’t the only community feeling a labour pinch.

In December, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business released a report saying 55 per cent of small businesses cannot get all the staff they need for their current operations or to meet new demand. Another 16 per cent were able to fill their positions, but at significantly higher cost.

“Businesses across B.C. have been finding it very challenging to get the help and staff they need,” CFIB senior policy analyst Seth Scott said in a press release. “Labour shortages are especially acute in B.C., over half (59 per cent) of B.C. small businesses report experiencing labour shortages, the fourth highest in Canada.”

Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of businesses affected by labour shortages couldn’t find applicants with the right skills or experience, while 52 per cent reported a total of lack of candidates, the CFIB reported.

Nearly a quarter of small businesses reported employees switching industries due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses in the social service and hospitality sectors were especially hard-hit, with 37 to 48 of businesses reporting people leaving the sector.

Increasing wages hasn’t always helped businesses find workers, the CFIB reported. While 82 per cent of businesses suffering staffing shortages increased the wages they offered, only 31 per cent were successful in finding candidates at the higher rate of pay.

On average, small businesses facing labour shortages were expected to increase wages by 3.7 per cent over the next 12 months, above the national average of 3.1 per cent, CFIB reported.

“Small businesses were already experiencing a very significant shortage of labour at the beginning of 2020, and the pandemic has made the situation only more complex,” CFIB vice-president of national research Simon Gaudreault said in a press release. “Industries that were locked down for long periods of time, like hospitality, have seen a mass exodus as workers upskilled or switched to other jobs, and virtually all sectors are facing major demographic upheavals with not enough new workers coming in to replace those who are retiring.”