Victoria businesses offer financial incentives to attract, retain staff amid labour shortage

·3 min read
Many businesses in Victoria, B.C., are facing staffing shortages as COVID-19 pandemic restrictions ease and the province shifts into summer tourist season. (Mike Blake/Reuters - image credit)
Many businesses in Victoria, B.C., are facing staffing shortages as COVID-19 pandemic restrictions ease and the province shifts into summer tourist season. (Mike Blake/Reuters - image credit)

'Help Wanted' signs have become a fixture in the windows of B.C. businesses as staff shortages that existed pre-pandemic have now been exacerbated by more than a year of layoffs and uncertainty according to business leaders.

Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce CEO Bruce Williams says the shortage is affecting most sectors, including retail, restaurants and construction.

"It's a pretty common thing that we've been dealing with for quite some time on the island," he said.

He said that in the short term, there's not a lot to help some businesses get through the summer. As more travel restrictions lift and international students return to the city and look for work, there could be some relief.

In the meantime, however, businesses are finding ways to attract and keep staff, primarily with financial incentives.

Living wage

One way to attract and retain employees, Williams said, is to offer above minimum wage.

"To attract someone to come and live here, you have to pay them a wage that will allow them the lifestyle to which they have been accustomed to in another place," he said.

The Living Wage for Families Campaign last calculated that the living wage in Victoria is $19.39 per hour, but plans to update those numbers later this year. In June, minimum wage in B.C. increased from $14.60 to $15.20 per hour.

Cliff Leir, owner of two businesses in Victoria, has started offering a living wage, as opposed to minimum wage. He said the "base" wage for his employees is $20 per hour.

"When you're running a restaurant or a cafe, you're dealing with what's going on in real time and can't always depend on the government policy to guide these things," he said.

"We've all stuck really close together and definitely know what peoples' needs are."

Recruitment bonuses

The Brentwood Bay Resort, which needs about 135 staff members to operate at full capacity, is short by more than 20 people.

The business has begun paying higher wages and offering stress pay for managers forced to work overtime to make up for the shortage.

The resort is also offering a recruitment bonus to current staff that help them find new employees.

"That's probably been the most effective technique we've used," said general manager Natasha Richardson.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

She said they've bought recruitment ads online, but in some cases have not received any applications as a result of those investments.

"We're just spending money and no one's looking at the ads because there's so many jobs available at the moment."

Costs passed on

As businesses offer financial incentives in order to recruit and keep staff, Williams said consumers should expect to pay more for services.

"We as diners and consumers have to face the fact that, yeah, maybe we need to be a part of helping people make a living wage by paying the prices that restaurants will have to pay their employees and then charge us."

Leir agreed that food is going to cost more in his restaurant, simply so he can pay his staff more.

"People are going to have to pay their staff more because staff need more ... to just survive, just to pay the rent," he said.

He said he's looking for other efficiencies in the workplace to help save time and money, in hopes that the cost won't entirely be passed on to consumers.

"We want to keep good food affordable to people."

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