This Tim Horton’s location in Saanich had to cut back on hours earlier this year because it lacked staff. A new survey released this week finds high housing costs hurts recruitment of workers in the Greater Victoria area. Black Press file

Unaffordable housing blamed for Capital Region job shortages

Greater Victoria survey identifies transit as a recruitment barrier

A new report identifies unaffordable housing but also transit as obstacles to the recruitment of staff.

These findings emerge from a survey into factors affecting employee recruitment in Greater Victoria that Chemistry Consulting Group conducted between July 15 and Aug. 10. They match earlier reporting in the Saanich News, which found local companies are struggling to fill jobs, with unemployment in July around 3.7 per cent, according to Statistics Canada.

The survey, mixing quantitative and qualitative questions, garnered 250 responses from businesses across 10 different sectors with the highest number of responses coming from businesses in the accommodation, recreation and tourism services, professional services, retail, and food & beverage sectors.

But if respondents ranged across small, medium and large companies across sectors, almost 60 per cent “believe the current shortage of housing is making it difficult for them to attract employees from outside of Victoria.” Of the remaining respondents, 19.2 per cent are unsure if the shortage of housing is having an impact. Just over 24 per cent – 23.6 per cent – said it is not having an impact on their ability to attract employees.

The identified relationship between housing and recruitment appears especially strong in the lower wage segment. A total of 78.1 per cent of respondents who said housing makes it difficult for them to recruit potential workers said they have difficulty finding employees to fill entry-level roles. “However, respondents also indicated that the housing shortage is making it difficult to attract employees at all other levels,” it read.

This said, not all respondents accepted the theory that the lack of affordable housing is hurting recruitment. Several respondents instead pointed towards lacking work ethics, inadequate training and a hostile business environment as culprits. “Housing is not the issue a lack of opportunity, real or perceived, and the fact that this is an island are the issues,” read one response.

Respondents also identified as a transit as detriment in the qualitative section of the survey.

“Many of our candidates for entry level positions reside in Langford,” read one of the responses. “Public transportation is not very practical. Efficient transportation from Langford/Victoria up to the Saanich peninsula is simply not available in the early mornings.”

Release of the survey coincided with plans announced by the provincial government to increase the minimum wage to $15/hour in the next four years, a move small business owners have denounced.

While Chemistry Consulting conducted the survey before the announced increase, the subject appears throughout the survey.

One respondent said he would favour an increase to $15 per hour. “If I do this alone my expenses increase and my profits decrease,” it read. “If the minimum wage is increased to $15 per hour, then all minimum wage employees have more spending money. The minimum wage employees will most likely spend this money and it will generate more income for local business thus offsetting the cost of increasing the minimum wage.”

Several other respondents also favoured higher wages. “Lower wages prevent viable recruitment of well educated and experienced people,” said one respondent. “If the rent continues to increase, we will not be able to sustain entry level and hard labor positions. How are we going to operate?”

In fact, the survey suggests respondents have already been raising wages to attract staff. According to the survey, just over two-thirds of respondents said they have had to raise salaries to attract staff and management because of the region’s low unemployment rate and the higher cost of housing.

However the survey also found apprehension about higher wages. “Some of the respondents…indicated that they cannot afford to raise salaries, so are doing without staff,” it read. And even if they have raised salaries, the increases themselves might not be sufficiently alluring.

“(I raised salaries) 35 per cent and offer exceptional tip pool options, and I still cannot find and retain staff,” read one response.

Other comments suggest local governments have not done enough to ease regulations around affordable housing and business. “Raising the minimum wage is like putting a band aid on a severed appendage,” read one response. “The local government here in the CRD is probably the most corrupt and useless I’ve ever ever seen in my 43 years on this planet.”

Overall, the survey see business owners conscious of the relationship between wages, recruitment and housing, but also hesitant about raising the minimum wage, as the provincial government has recently done.

“Increasing wage rates make it difficult for me to compete (as I’m a small family owned and operated business),” read one response. “However increasing costs of living in Victoria make it difficult for young people to stay here and work.”

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