Lifestyle leads list of labour issues as business grapples with survival

The state of the business sector in Nelson has less to do with inflation, supply chain issues and labour and more to do with a culture change in its workforce, according to the proponents of a new study from the city’s chamber.

Tom Thomson and Darren Davidson spoke about the sentiment behind the State of the Sectors case studies report authored and issued recently by the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce.

Although the three main issues facing employers were the topic of the report — labour, inflation and the supply chain — the grist for the mill was of concern to some on city council when they were presented with an overview of the report at their last committee-of-the-whole meeting.

Coun. Jesse Woodward wondered how people had begun to approach the idea and the form of work in post-pandemic times.

“Is that (idea of work) shifting in your mind as to how it affects retail and how general business operates?” he asked.

Thomson, the chamber’s executive director, said wages, work conditions and benefits are all pieces of the workforce puzzle, but no one piece can encompass the issue.

People are no longer working long hours for low pay with a blind-faith thankfulness to have a job, a mindset embraced by previous generations, he added.

“I don’t know if it has anything to do with employers not doing a good job at being an employer either, I think it is just a shift in younger demographics saying that they have more choice,” he said.

Working from home still seems to be a viable option for many people, even though employers are asking them to come back, Thomson said. Help wanted signs dot the windows of downtown businesses with a regularity seldom seen before in the city.

“There are a lot of different factors involved in this,” he pointed out. “I think the businesses are trying to do their best to keep employees happy. There are a lot of great employers around Nelson who try to (offer) more than just what is considered to be a living wage.

“But there is a cultural change that people are not going to do the same things that their parents did, or their grandparents did.”

Davidson, the principal researcher and author of the report, concurred.

“Lifestyle does weigh in a lot more heavily with people’s decisions on how they want to work, and it’s a real workers’ market out there so there’s not as much pressure or urgency to retain a job,” he said. “If they don’t like it, they can just go someplace else.”

A matter of state

Months of interviews, roundtable discussions and economic investigations led to the creation of the series of case studies comprising the State of the Sectors chamber report.

Arising from that work came the identification of the obvious major challenges — workforce and labour, inflation, fuel and housing, and insurance and financing — but also what the chamber and the sector can do to address them.

Advocacy is what the chamber does, said Davidson in his report to council. The studies have done more than just track challenges in the Nelson business community.

“With the insight that the case studies have provided we have inventoried advocacy opportunities for the post pandemic and recessionary support the business community is still needing,” he said.

Davidson explained that roundtable findings have resulted in “some pretty clear aims” that will be shared with municipal government, direct local business and support agencies — like the chamber and Community Futures and Columbia Basin Trust — provincial government and other provincial agencies.

The chamber is already working on 45 action plans, he revealed, as well as 53 policy aims that have arisen out of last month’s B.C. Chamber of Commerce annual general meeting.

Cash crunching

The business sector may have its issues but there is also a lot of good news, Davidson said.

First and foremost in that realm is that the pandemic has eased dramatically, he pointed out. B

“But we, of course, have moved from one frying pan into another,” Davidson stated. “The paradox being that business owners had that enormous amount of financial aid at the start of the crisis but we don’t have that for the second, that being recessionary issues we are facing.

“Ironically, it was that (government) cash that overheated the economy and caused the inflation we are seeing now.”

Timothy Schafer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Nelson Daily