FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – Despite the drop in northeast B.C.’s unemployment rate over the past few months, many businesses are struggling to find workers.

Cheryl Montgomery, executive director of the Fort St. John and District Chamber of Commerce, says businesses are seeing the repercussions of a year filled with restrictions and guidelines, especially in the hospitality sector.

Throughout the year, businesses have had to alter operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including being required to close, modify hours, and reduce the capacity in their buildings.

“What toll has taken on staffing? I think it is pretty critical to some of the challenges that they might be facing now, where everything was so vulnerable and staff, of course, are looking for opportunities to have a stable income,” said Montgomery.

Multiple Fort St. John businesses have posted on social media stating they’re modifying hours or temporarily closing their doors due to the employee shortage.

Despite some challenges, northeast B.C.’s monthly unemployment rate has been low compared to the rest of the province over the past year. For July, the region’s unemployment data couldn’t be reported due to being too low. Northeast B.C. was the only region in Canada to have its data not reported last month, and the last time the unemployment rate was suppressed was in February 2020.

Local business owner and city councillor, Trevor Bolin, expressed a similar sentiment to Montgomery, stating the job availability in some sectors is due to the lack of security felt over the past year.  He says families moving to the area already have work lined up, affecting hospitality, retail and restaurant work.

“Oftentimes, you’ll have a family that’s coming up here; maybe the husband already has a job, the wife goes to look for one or vice versa. That’s not happening. What we’re finding right now is that, whether it’s couples or families are moving to the area, they’re already coming for both jobs.”

Montgomery has heard many reasons for the lack of employees in the area from chamber members, including going back to school and available government funding.

“Part of that is employees have gone back to school. Part of it is just that stable income. Sometimes what we hear is, of course, the accessibility to government funding for unemployed workers to be able to access different programs and making a choice not to go back to work.”

 

As for the oil and gas sector, Montogmery says the issue seems to be the lack of qualified workers.

“We have to look a little bit broader into that, and maybe what we’re doing locally to educate the apprenticeship programs? How do we keep these people employed after a slowdown not connected to COVID-19 at all.”

Some companies may begin adding incentives to get individuals to move to the area due to the need for workers. Montgomery believes this is the case for higher paying jobs, such as tradesmen, and not so much for the hospitality sector.

“I don’t think that’s even an option to pay more and look at that. They’re an entry-level position and often filled by students. The opportunity to access that market is going to be a little vulnerable right now, with students going back to school.”

“We just need to get them back open and operating.”

Anyone looking for information on resources available, contact the chamber at (250) 785-6037.

As of August 6th, there were over 690 WorkBC job postings in the northeast.