Canadian Tire still plans to re-open its auto service desk sometime this fall after shutting it down early in the summer. The problem is not a lack of business at its Wilson Creek location—it’s a lack of mechanics to staff its three car-repair bays.
“We have some possible hires in the pipeline, possibly from other provinces who might be making their way out,” said store manager Branden Olsen.
Finding staff is a problem for businesses on the Coast, but some trades and some seasons are proving to be worse than others, according to Lucy Clark, of the non-profit employment services organization, Open Door Group.
“As of about March, everybody ramps up looking for staff,” said Clark. “So we have an influx of job postings from employers looking for people at the beginning of the year. Anyone that is seeking work has plenty of opportunity and jobs generally get filled pretty quickly, which leaves an abundance of employers still looking for people.”
Clark noted that for years, the Coast was seen as a place without many jobs. Not so.
“It’s actually the complete opposite,” she said. “There’s lots of work here,” she said.
But Clark adds that the changing demographic of the Coast is part of the reason that employers go wanting.
“With our 30,00 people on the Coast, we have a good 10,000 over the age of 60, and another 10,000 below the age of 15. We don’t have a huge bank of people here looking for work,” she said.
There are current shortages of employees to do construction work, as the Coast is competing with the rest of B.C. for tradespeople amidst a provincewide building boom.
Clark said there’s all kinds of work for electricians, plumbers, carpenters, painters, decorators, roofers and general labourers. Add that’s just the construction business.
At least one local businessman believes we’d have more qualified people here if only the Sunshine Coast had a higher profile.
“We have yet to really communicate what the Sunshine Coast represents in terms of a place to live, or even to vacation” said Ian Macdonald, a partner and Creative Director at Vaka Marketing in Sechelt. “We haven’t effectively communicated the opportunity here.”
Macdonald said the tourism industry and local governments have not done enough to spread the word.
He said he was able to recruit staff members from marketing agencies in Vancouver, but only because they all had prior connections to the Coast through a parent or spouse.
“So, they knew what this place had to offer, and it became a very easy choice for them.”
Macdonald said that if more people in their 30s heard about the local lifestyle and the cost of buying a home relative to the Lower Mainland, “we would have a whole lot more talent here, and our economic development fortunes would improve pretty dramatically.”
But if that talent is not yet ready to buy a home, our meagre rental market is a real turn-off. The lack of vacancies has driven rents close to Vancouver levels.
“There’s really nowhere for them to go,” Macdonald said, “and there’s no easy solution to that.”
The Open Door’s Lucy Clark agrees housing can be a real problem for many.
“I know personally of people who have had to go back to Vancouver because of the rental situation here.,” she said. “But I’m also hearing that there are people are finding accommodation.”
Clark said the lack of public transportation north of Sechelt has added to employers’ staffing woes in the Pender Harbour area.
But as frustrating as the situation might be, it does point to a bright business picture overall.
“I look at the situation on the Coast as a whole and see that businesses are succeeding, more new businesses are opening,” Clark said in an interview in September. “I just received a list from the Gibsons Chamber of Commerce which shows that 32 new businesses have opened up since January 1st this year. And that’s just Gibsons. The Sunshine Coast is evolving, we’re growing.” Rik Jespersen