When it comes to B.C. business, the health of Alberta’s economy is one of the horses to watch in 2018, said Catherine Holt, Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce CEO.
Noting the economic trends between the provinces, whereby their loss is our gain, Alberta’s ongoing recovery could further dry up an already thinning pool of employees here, especially in construction, the trades and tech.
“[A]s Alberta’s economy is doing better, we’re going to see less interest in Alberta workers moving to Victoria. We may even see the reverse start to happen – Victoria workers moving to Alberta,” said Holt.
At this time, she said, one of the glaring problems nipping at the ankles of local businesses is attracting and retaining workers. Despite Victoria’s shimmering unemployment rate of 3.3 per cent in November, that challenge is occurring irrespective of company size.
Holt has heard a lot of anecdotal evidence about the shortage from Chamber members, some 80 per cent of whom operate small businesses. She suspects retiring baby boomers have created the groundswell of job openings. Construction was an area of high demand for workers in 2017.
Aside from bringing in Albertan workers, Holt said more international immigration could help offset the employee shortfall.
And most small businesses, she said, are not in a position to pay high salaries, so employers are coming up with “creative methods” to address retention, including flexible schedules to accommodate childcare requirements.
It might not appear to be an employment issue at first glance, but childcare is one of three main areas the Chamber will continue to advocate for in 2018. Holt said there have been some inroads with regards to the province making childcare more affordable for parents who could be working.
A promising sign is a recent provincial announcement to invest in building more childcare spaces, Holt said, noting there’s also hope that the government’s $10-a-day childcare plan will come to fruition.
Another area the Chamber is looking to advocate for is housing. Specifically, Holt said, provincial funds to build affordable housing for University of Victoria students, which could, in turn, free-up rentals for lower-wage workers.
“UVic estimates that there’s at least 10,000 rental units in the market that are occupied by students, usually sharing – so that’s 20,000 students who are renting in the region,” she said.
Transportation is the third pillar in the Chamber’s 2018 advocacy plan. It’s an area Holt, who was recently named chair of BC Transit’s board of directors, is passionate about. She asserted that her roles at the Chamber and BC Transit are separate, however, the board of the Chamber does support improvements to public transit to get workers moving.
One immediate transportation need, for instance, would be dedicated bus lanes from the city to the West Shore and back, she noted.
Success this past year was seen in tourism, tech and retail, despite the trend of online shopping, Holt said, noting that most early forecasts predict moderate growth for BC’s economy in 2018.