“I’ve never had such a difficult time finding staff,” says Bob Hoy, owner-operator of the IGA stores in Wilson Creek and Gibsons. And Hoy is not alone. Across the Sunshine Coast, urgent help wanted notices are posted in windows and online as businesses struggle to find employees.
Hoy, who employs 200 full and part-time staff at his two grocery stores, describes the market as “very competitive.” While he used to be able to attract employees by word of mouth, he is now advertising on Craigslist and Facebook.
“All I can say is it is my single biggest challenge right now,” said Hoy.
At Canadian Tire in Wilson Creek, manager Brandon Olsen has temporarily shut down the automotive department due to insufficient staff, but hopes to re-open soon. “We do have customer complaints about not having enough staff, but we don’t have many applicants,” said Olsen. “We’ve gone through two or three recruiting agencies to try and find people.”
“Technicians are the most difficult.”
Lucy Clark, from the Open Door Group’s employment centre on Cowrie St. in Sechelt, says “it’s a person crisis” and blames the demographic skew of the Coast for a lack of working-aged people. There are other challenges as well, such as transportation to jobs that are not accessible by transit.
Clark would like to see more employers take advantage of Work BC’s programs, such as wage subsidies for summer staffing and training, such as Serving it Right and Food Safe.
Paul Kamon, Executive Director of Sunshine Coast Tourism, says that the staff crunch is province-wide, especially during the summer. “The tourism industry’s traditional reliance on the 18-24 year age segment is no longer providing enough bodies (due to competition from other industries and reduced numbers), coupled with a lack of affordable housing and convenient transportation on the Sunshine Coast,” said Kamon.
He points to a 2016 survey of BC’s tourism industry which found that 50 per cent of employers could not hire all the people they needed to run their businesses, resulting in significant lost revenue for business, and lost taxes for government.
Christina Stewart of Praxis Performance Group, a Gibsons-based HR company, says that for senior level positions, employers have always had to search off Coast, but she’s “definitely seeing it more now on the front lines.”
“We compete with Vancouver for talent, and face the same challenges of paying living wages,” she said. She notes that housing is a big part of the problem, and says she’s heard anecdotally about people leaving the coast because they couldn’t find housing.
Stewart’s advice to employers is to get online. “It’s absolutely imperative now that employers have a social media presence because that’s where job seekers go to check the validity of an employer.” For job seekers she recommends a job posting aggregator such as indeed.com. Donna McMahon