Vernon chamber writes to Trudeau, Horgan - says North Okanagan labour shortage needs attention

Local labour shortage

The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened an ongoing labour shortage in the North Okanagan, according to the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber is urging senior governments take action to address the issue.

In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier John Horgan, the chamber insists there is an urgency to filling the employment gap.

“We frequently hear from our membership that the most significant operational challenge is access to labour, and the while the situation existed prior to the pandemic, Covid-19 has only heightened the crisis,” chamber president Krystin Kempton says in a press release.

“Many vacancies go unfilled, meaning some businesses have reduced hours or are unable to complete orders. This scenario is particularly common within the manufacturing, agricultural and retail sectors in the North Okanagan.”

Factors feeding into the shortage are the cost of housing, lack of childcare, an aging population, and access to training and education. The cost of housing makes it difficult for many employers to attract and retain staff, the chamber adds.

“While progress has been made by government and non-profits in constructing housing for those at the lower end of the financial spectrum, many individuals and families in the middle-income bracket find it difficult to rent or purchase a home in the current market,” says Kempton.

A list of chamber recommendations includes:

  • A labour study to determine why individuals are not pursuing employment opportunities and, particularly with COVID-19, what barriers exist to returning to work.
  • That federal and provincial immigration programs not be restricted to specific sectors. Allow local communities to pursue skilled labour or investors based on local needs.
  • Enhanced focus on skills training, particularly among women, Indigenous, people of colour and those with disabilities.
  • Government at all levels be provided with the tools to encourage development of housing for middle-income wage earners, whether it is through planning mechanisms or financial enticements.
  • Work with large local employers to subsidize employee designated housing.
  • Include 'tiny homes' as an appropriate use within subdivision planning.
  • Government at all levels provide messaging to residents on the benefits of diverse housing options (ie. multi-family next to single-family).
  • Funding for private and non-profit childcare operators to provide care for children under the age of three, and care that corresponds with shift or evening work.
  • Funding that encourages individuals to pursue early childhood education, and wage subsidies that allow private and non-profit childcare centres to employ staff.

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