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Labour market specialist says demographics and cost of living causing employment woes

A WorkBC labour market specialist says local demographics along with the cost of living and incentives are contributing to the labour shortage.

While the country’s unemployment rate is sitting low at 5.5 per cent this year, job availability has increased to record highs with 958,000 vacant positions.

Around 270 jobs are available on the Comox Valley WorkBC website. Labour market specialist Brooke Thoburn says this is very unusual for this time of year.

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She adds this is likely due to the high cost of living and the number of jobs that require certain training, that many in the area might not have.

“We’ve gone from maybe 20 to 50 [available jobs], but even 20 at full-time summer employment this time of year is high,” said Thoburn. “I know when the hospital opened, they were really struggling to get nurses or healthcare workers in particular.”

“Two women [were] coming over from Vancouver, they were registered nurses, they couldn’t find anything they could afford at the wages they were making. Which is astounding when you think that the cost of living here was similar to it was in Vancouver.”

The number of jobs, however, means that if people need work they should be able to find it, according to Thoburn. She says at the moment, many immigrants – particularly Ukrainians – are coming to them to find jobs.

She adds many workers that are coming in have fewer skills, and more often have barriers to getting a job.

Island demographics may also be a contributing factor, according to Thoburn.

“We have a high retirement or semi-retirement population here, an older population,” said Thoburn. “Parksville north we seem to get a real influx. A lot of those seniors would like some kind of part-time work.”

Thoburn believes higher wages from businesses would help attract more workers. However, she adds younger generations are often looking for more work-life balance and want a flexible experience.

“More flexible work schedule, not necessarily a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.” said Thoburn. “I would say for seniors, an incentive for healthcare benefits would certainly help.”

Thoburn says many seniors who retired early because of the pandemic could come back to work and take up more positions. She adds employers “really need to dig into how they can expand their workforce.”

“There are things that need to be explored that haven’t been, I think, such as working with people with disabilities, working with more youth, bringing people on and training them, not expecting those high skills necessarily coming into a job but being prepared to mentor people and train them along the way.”

Thoburn adds the position now in terms of employment numbers feels different than a number of years ago.

“The summer before COVID happened, we were at the same place we are at now in terms of employment numbers and we were all jumping up and down for joy because we were at what they basically call full employment,” she said.

“We’re in the same place now, only there are way more people looking for work so it’s not such a rosy picture.”

Thoburn says a job fair will be held on Aug. 21 for employers and potential employees to get together.

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