Tuesday July 29, 2014


Survey results are meant for general information only, and are not based on recognised statistical methods.

Help always wanted in Region

William Stodalka photo

Lyndon Gruenwald re-arranges hats in Griffon's Source for Sports on Wednesday. Part of his job involves cashier work, which people like Dawson Creek Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kathleen Connolly said are in demand in the Peace Region.

It’s no surprise that labour, especially skilled trades, is in high demand in Dawson Creek and the Peace Region, as in many locations across Canada.

“Some employers seem to have a permanent ‘Help Wanted’ sign,” said Fort St. John and District Chamber of Commerce Vice-President Brad Brain.

However, a recent report by CIBC stated that other occupations needed in the Peace are showing signs of surplus across Canada.

On Monday, CIBC economist Benjamin Tal reported that 30 per cent of businesses across Canada faced a skill labour shortage, nearly double the rate seen in early 2010.

“The recent acceleration in that ratio has coincided with a stagnating employment - loosely illustrating the negative impact of skill shortages on employment growth,” the report states.

The largest skill shortages were in healthcare jobs, mining, and advanced manufacturing, according to Tal’s report.  

The report also stated that a new Federal plan to bring in skilled worker program, and an increased focus on apprenticeship would not be large enough to turn things around.

Provincially, B.C. is fourth in the vacancy to unemployment ratio, at around 15 per cent. Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta are the next highest provinces, with Alberta facing a 60 per cent vacancy to unemployment ratio.

Closer to home, Kathleen Connolly, executive director of the Dawson Creek Chamber of Commerce believes that vacancy to unemployment ratio is much higher in the Peace Region.

According to B.C. Labour statistics released last October, the Northeast portion of the province has a 3.8 per cent unemployment rate, compared to a 6.5 per cent provincial unemployment rate.

She said the Peace Region faces a “special situation” when it comes to industrial employment. This has forced those who hire skilled labour to think outside of Canada to help solve their labour situation, she said.

“We have employers who are going to Ireland, England and Australia and recruiting their skilled labourers because their economies are so harsh,” she said. “Employers here are already aggressive in trying to recruit people to live in the Northeast.”

However, she said that employers not only need these types of labour, but also labour markets that Tal said is showing signs of surplus, including cashiers, butchers, or clerical work.

In places like fast food restaurants, which typically use cashiers or other service-oriented positions, many employers rely on the Federal temporary worker program to hire locals. But some go even further, said Connolly.

“We currently have a lot of employers…who actually take two or three weeks who go to countries like the Philippines to recruit staff.”

Connolly suggested it would be difficult to bring in people doing these types of jobs over to the Peace Region.

“To do an entry level position it doesn’t match what it costs you to live here,” she said. “If you were just to move here just for the jobs, it doesn’t match the standard of living.”

Brain agreed.

“If you have a business that would employ people at minimum wage, you’d have a real hard time staffing those jobs,” he said.

Other positions that are currently in need of labour include professional health occupations.

According to a recent board report from Northern Health, approximately 46 medical staff vacancies were needed across Northern Health, including 23 family doctors.

In the Northeast portion of the province, 61 vacancies in other medical professions were shown in the board’s report. This included nursing, which showed 25 nurse positions were vacant.

In response, Northern Health has done a number of initiatives to increase physician recruitment. One of these included a trip to bring in doctors from the U.K. in October.

“The common message delivered by physicians is that they want to leave the UK due to a poor economy, NHS restraints and decreased pensions,” according to the report.

“Many GPs expressed interest in rural and remote medicine in northern BC with a potential recruit for Chetwynd currently in process.”

Another area where the Peace Region and Dawson Creek differ from the general populace is secondary and elementary school teachers.

Candace Cloutier, a spokesman for School District 59, which encompasses much of the South Peace, said that her district was only able to fill up the teachers needed for the area in November.

However, this problem has not been because of a lack of credentialed teachers.

“We have the people in the country… recruitment’s always been a bit of an issue,” she said.

Cloutier said that some teachers may find the long winters and smaller population of Dawson Creek and other areas to be challenging.

Another potential problem faced by teachers is the lack of affordable housing in the Peace.

According to Cloutier, teachers can make $42,000 to $90,000 depending on their level of experience and expertise.

Unlike other employers, these school districts do not have to go overseas to find people to work. A majority of these teachers came from within B.C., although they have had to go to other provinces to recruit, she said.

Cloutier said that the school district works on recruiting by posting on national job web sites, and interviewing potential candidates through Skype.

Brain said that this labour shortage is not common across Canada. He said that a colleague in Windsor, Ont., which has been hit hard by factory closures, often spends his day advising people about what to do now that their severance package is gone.

In contrast, people are coming to the Peace Region looking for work, said Brain.

However, he said that this environment of high labour demand can create problems when people come to the area expecting to find work that they aren’t suited towards.  

Brain said that in Fort St. John, some people who arrive there are “19 years old, never been in the bush, and doesn’t have steel-toed boots” but expects to find lucrative employment.

“People move here, but don’t have the skills,” he said. “It’s not like this is an area where you can drop in, grab a shovel... and start making money.”

He also said that the labour force in the area has “unusually high expectations” and that some people have an “entitlement” mentality which can create problems.

This can all lead to people who have moved in the area becoming disillusioned.

“We need skilled, trained, productive, motivated, ethical people,” said Brain. “But also do your homework before you come up.”

This can lead to businesses waiting for long periods of time for the right person.

“A lot of businesses will be operational but understaffed,” said Brain. “They want to hire the right person for that job.”

Sometimes, the demand can force people to hire under-qualified applicants.

“In the last decade or more I’ve hired people I shouldn’t have... but I was so busy,” said Brain.

He admitted that these qualified applicants can also be turned off by the weather, smaller population, and distance from big-city amenities, but said that the area offers benefits that others may not.

“I love it that I live five minutes away (from work),” he said. “I like being able to know where my kids are.”

Others also manage to mitigate it by flying in from other portions of the province into their work.

Nevertheless, he believes that these issues will continue to face the Peace Region.

“We will probably continue to face the problems of prosperity.”



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