Construction at the Ross Street Underpass pictured on June 14, 2022. (File photo)

Construction at the Ross Street Underpass pictured on June 14, 2022. (File photo)

More housing could help as Shuswap employers struggle to find enough workers

Record-low unemployment rates across the country make for stiff competition

Businesses in the Shuswap are struggling to hire workers following May’s record low national unemployment rate of 5.1 per cent.

“This is something everybody is struggling with. It’s a province-wide issue, but it’s also a continental issue. The pandemic came and it really shook things up,” said Jennifer Broadwell, manager of Downtown Salmon Arm.

Broadwell said it is difficult for downtown’s small businesses to compete with the wages offered by larger companies.

One such business struggling to hire is the Pink Cherry. Cafe manager Raelynn O’Connor said she is receiving hardly any job applications. The few resumes she gets are from students unavailable during the hours she needs covered.

Short staffing has forced the Pink Cherry to cut business hours. It is closed on Wednesdays in addition to Sundays. O’Connor said she doesn’t know what to do about the worker shortage.

“I don’t have any ideas. We can’t figure out why nobody is out working,” she said.

Nationwide, a limited number of people are looking for a job, according to Statistics Canada. Alongside the lowest unemployment rate since Statistics Canada first started recording it in 1976, full-time employment increased by almost one per cent (135,000 jobs) in May.

The Ross Street underpass project, which temporarily restricts parking for employees, is further complicating downtown hiring. A section of Lakeshore Drive that intersects with Ross Street has been closed for construction since November 2021. The contractor agreed to reopen the major road for peak tourist season in July and August.

Best Western Sicamous Inn Manager Eileen Hartwig said limited housing contributes to labour shortages in her area. It is difficult to move to Sicamous during the summer because many units are used as Airbnbs. During other seasons, people don’t want to move into a home that they can only stay in for a few months of the year.

“We get interviews or resumes from all over the place. But unless those people have rental accommodation or something lined up, there is just no way that they can come in here,” Hartwig said.

Employee housing is also an issue for downtown Salmon Arm businesses that need to hire people with niche skill sets from out-of-town, Broadwell said.

“If we have the opportunity to provide multi-family housing at more affordable rates, then we have more opportunities to bring people into the community and fill these positions.”

She said city council has prioritized denser housing for years, but to accomplish this the city needs to attract developers. Better housing options for long-time locals would also discourage workers from moving away.

Hartwig would have an easier time hiring people if there were more affordable housing options in Sicamous. However, competition would remain a problem because potential hires have more options than employers, Hartwig said.

RELATED: Unemployment rate falls to new record low as wages ramp up: StatCan

RELATED: B.C. jobs minister addresses labour shortages at Vernon town hall

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