Parksville and Qualicum Beach-area businesses and chambers are now better armed to push for solutions to what’s been called a “dramatic undersupply” of workers by a new labour market analysis.
“There are shortages of labour at all skill levels and in most, if not all, industrial sectors,” notes the report, which also points out an “exodus of young persons as they leave school after age 19,” a very large population of retired persons, and a significant portion of those employed in the region commuting 35 kilometres or more each way to work.
While the Parksville Qualicum Beach Regional Labour Market Analysis and Strategy report (introduced at a Parksville chamber dinner in early November) largely supports what many in the local business sector already knew, Parksville and District Chamber of Commerce executive director Kim Burden said the data will help with lobbying and organizing efforts to address problems like loss of youth workers once they graduate high school, lack of appropriate skills development, and the high cost and lack of housing.
“It’s a qualification of what we already believed, and now that we have good data to confirm things, we can go forward and begin to look at working on the goals so that we can make things a little bit better here for both employers and employees,” said Burden of the report.
One goal noted in the report which the chamber has been lobbying the RDN for is a regional economic development function: “This is something that needs to be funded by government but not done by government,” said Burden.
A variety of economic reports and strategies have been created by groups like the Parksville chamber and local governments, though labour market conditions remain difficult for employers and employees.
“What’s required is somebody who can actually work on these things. We’re all very busy people, and somebody with a set of skills in economic development needs to take all of the things that have been done and pull them together.”
The report, done for the Parksville chamber in partnership with the Career Centre (and by working with a variety of stakeholders in the area) collected data from a variety of sources, including speaking with local businesses, and then provided a labour market strategy, with goals suggesting what should be done to address issues.
The population for the School District 69 area shows a spike at ages 15-19 and then a drop, representing the loss of high school graduates in the area. “The loss of young people is not fully ‘recovered’ until after age 55,” notes the report.
Between 2011 and 2016, the growth of those “not in the labour force” was much higher than the growth of those employed or unemployed.
The region also has a higher percentage of its labour force commuting long distance compared to B.C. and Canada. “In the Parksville/Qualicum Beach region, 12.9 per cent of the employed labour force commutes 35 kms or more each way.” That’s compared to 5.6 per cent in B.C. and 8.2 per cent in Canada.
In the City of Parksville, 65 per cent of those who work in the city did not live in it, according to Canada’s 2016 census. In Qualicum Beach, 67 per cent did not live in the town.
Career Centre documents pin the average price of rent in Qualicum Beach at $930, and $795 in Parksville, though vacancy rates from 2017 were 0 per cent.
For the labour market analysis, phone interviews and in-person consultations were done with employers, industry representatives and stakeholders.
Many reported difficulty recruiting suitable staff and sharing a small labour pool of working-age applicants.
Lack of housing and an inability to pay workers “what they want or need” were also mentioned as major issues by just under half of participants.
Lack of qualified staff for positions where formal education was required, transportation issues, retention of workers, young workers work ethic, and scheduling difficulties when it comes to employees with multiple jobs were all also mentioned.
Goals to address these issues suggested in the report included “improving the engagement of Indigenous persons in the labour force;” supporting SD 69’s career development activities; supporting an immigration, foreign worker strategy; supporting vocational training within the region; creating a greater connection between the region’s business and Vancouver Island University, improving transportation, fostering worker and family-friendly housing and more.
While Burden said there are already some positive changes happening towards some of these goals, he stressed the need for a unified regional approach and funding for someone who can begin addressing these issues and work steadily towards these goals.