Westview U Vin U Brew owner Jeremy East will soon lose his main employee, and can’t recruit with the promise of affordable housing anymore… or any housing.Abby Francis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published 12:40 May 04, 2022

By Abby Francis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

With few –and increasingly expensive – housing options in qathet, it’s little wonder a labor shortage has intensified in recent months.

Throughout the past couple of years, businesses all around town have reported struggling to find staff. The list of job postings continues to grow. March 2022 had 181 jobs posted via Work BC.

Now, with an increasing rise in rent and housing prices, businesses that once relied on recruiting new employees from Vancouver and the Lower Mainland – promising that qathet had affordable housing – are finding it more difficult to attract talent.

Owner of Westview U-Vin U-Brew, Jeremy East, says he had been planning on recruiting from Kwantlen, BCIT, and other universities like he had previously when he lived in the Lower Mainland from 2012 until 2018.

“I was a maintenance manager for three industrial companies and gave presentations on the industry to university grads. The most recent was in 2017 when I worked with J&L Beef in Surrey,” Jeremy says.

“I know many entrepreneurs in town that have been doing this. I was planning to start recruiting again as my main employee will be leaving soon. But with the housing issue in town, it is a hard sell.”

Jeremy says that the recruiting process is rooted in explaining that Powell River is a great small town, very quiet, good for raising kids, and has affordable housing.

“Now, while the others are still true, our housing isn’t very affordable anymore.”

“You can’t have someone stay in a hotel for three weeks looking for a place to rent, and it is hard to get a mortgage when you don’t have a job,” says Jeremy.

With the difficulties of finding professionals who will move to qathet, businesses have had to take on some employees that are under-qualified.

“This really gives business owners more work, and doubles the cost of training, because now you are paying a new employee and another for a lot more training in a job field that really needs either a higher education or more experience,” Jeremy says.

Another part of the labour shortage problem is qathet’s age demographics.

“We are missing those university students that grew up here. They left town to go to school and most of them just don’t come back,” Jeremy says.

“We are also missing those recruits from out-of-town that had been moving here after they were done with school for our housing affordability and work.”

While 2021 had hundreds of job postings, before the pandemic there were just as many.

Work BC Powell River manager Brodie D’Angio says 2017 to 2019 were big years in terms of job postings.

“Naturally, we saw a large dip in 2020 of job postings as COVID hit. In 2021 we saw a bit of a recovery … but overall 2021 was 30% down compared to the average of those three years.”

“March 2021’s amount of job postings were the biggest since March 2017, and March 2022 has had an even bigger increase,” says Brodie. “I imagine 2022 will be a fairly large recovery year, especially if businesses are not impacted by COVID outbreaks or policies.”

Brodie says while COVID and housing may play a role in the labor shortage, the impact they may have isn’t certain.

“I think there are more jobs than job seekers. Employers need to be creative on who they hire, consider how they may accommodate individuals, what training looks like for new entrants into the field, and consider if wages are competitive not only within their industry, but within jobs that require similar years of experience and skill sets,” says Brodie.

Some places in BC, such as Whistler and Tofino, use staff accommodations to help gain employees.

Could this be qathet’s solution?

John Hewson has been in the restaurant industry since his teenage years and is currently consulting here in qathet. “I worked in London during my teen years from 1979 until 1982 and the restaurant businesses there owned other buildings nearby for staff accommodations,” says John. “It was really great because it helped grow the friendship between co-workers. We lived, worked, and played together. Accommodations like that help foster team spirit.”

Lund-based hospitality consultant John Hewson says in other times and other places, it was common for employers to offer accommodation as part of staff benefits – especially when rentals were scarce.

John says he also worked and lived at the ski resort in Whistler, which offers some staff accommodations too. “We (qathet) offer similar benefits here as Whistler. We have trails for mountain biking and hiking. We have lakes for kayaking and canoeing. But we need that accommodation for staff,” John says.

“Employers need to think together, and as a community maybe we need to build housing for staff accommodations.”

While Whistler has these accommodations to attract young, and often international, staff, John says that these accommodations were mostly bunk-bed settings and there were never enough beds for all employees.

“We need to figure out the accommodation system but also keep workers happy, so they stay and grow with us,” says John.

Jeremy agrees that qathet needs to have more housing for workers in its future.

“Having this combination of a fast market and high prices is really difficult. Hopefully more workforce comes to town, because it is hard to find the right people with enough education or experience for the job.”

Inflation and paying more for employees mean businesses must charge more “and not everyone is happy with that,” says Jeremy.

Workplaces become increasingly stressful because of rising prices and employee shortages, says John.

“Restaurants are not an easy industry. It can be a super challenging environment, and with the pandemic most restaurants are understaffed and are doing their best. But that means longer waits for food, an increase in menu pricing, and sometimes orders do get mixed up, but we are all human beings and we need to remember that,” says John.

“Expectations are very high from customers. It’s important to understand what goes on behind the scenes at restaurants. Staff are there for very long hours. Before the restaurant opens, they are preparing food. They work in hot, cramped, high-pressure environments, serving through peak hour rushes, then cleaning up after service.

“And we don’t know what everyone is going to order. Imagine cooking for 60 to 100 people, it is a skilled art and challenging.”

John says prices of food have to rise as the living wage rises.

“Hard working human beings deserve respect and a living wage.”

John says the industry values compassion and respect from patrons.

“With all the huge challenges we’ve faced these past few years, a simple thank you goes a long way.” 

This item reprinted with permission from qathet Living, Powell River, British Columbia