PENTICTON - Local employers are skittish about hiring oil patch workers, while complaints of the high cost of living in the South Okanagan are largely perception-based by prospective employees, Penticton City Council has learned.
Those were two of the findings in a Labour Market study of Penticton and the South Okanagan presented by MDB Insight executive vice-president Trudy Parsons to council's Committee of the Whole meeting this week.
The city received a $70,000 provincial grant earlier this year to look at labour market trends in the region, in an effort to find out what needs to be done to attract and retain skilled labour to the area.
Parsons said one focus of the study was the importance of a liveable wage, ensuring the jobs being created in the area actually offered people the opportunity of a good quality of life.
“Obviously, that’s subjective in how it’s defined, but basically it’s the ability to have appropriate housing, food on the table, the ability to interact socially in different ways in the community, and provide for their children,” Parsons said, who added a good job was “the foundation for everything else, and the essence of what this project is about.”
Parsons said the study’s primary purpose was to find out “what it was going to take for someone to uproot where they lived currently, and establish right here.”
The study looked primarily at sectors most likely to offer good paying jobs, including manufacturing, financial, the public sector and hospital work.
Over 130 businesses responded to the study, of which about 80 per cent were located in Penticton or Summerland. About 30 per cent of respondents reported no trouble recruiting new workers, Parsons said, noting employers in the region were “scrutinizing" oil patch workers who have been returning to the Okanagan looking for work since the collapse of oil prices.
"I can tell you, from what I heard, employers are being very, very cautious about offering those individuals jobs, and the reason is, what happens when it turns back around?” she said.
Parsons said employers reported wages and cost of living to be major impediments to attracting labour to the area, although the issues appeared to be based on perspective. Employees being recruited from the U.S. tended to find cost of living prohibitive, while a prospective employee from Calgary or Edmonton might not see the same thing.
She said the cost of living and lifestyle of the Okanagan often left more money in an employee’s pocket at the end of the day than would have been the case in a large city or in the oil patch, an advantage that wasn’t always obvious.
Parsons said the most common reasons prospective employees didn't take positions in the South Okanagan were because of perceived financial risks associated with taking a cut in pay, lack of spousal opportunities and the size of the community.
Employers also identified the need for a central location to post and promote jobs in the region, according to the study. They noted increasing challenges of employing an aging workforce with its declining ability to do physical work, as well as the need to travel out of the valley for access to training programs as key employment issues in the region.
A draft plan of the study’s results will be made available in January, followed by an opportunity for scrutiny and feedback from the community. A final report is slated for release in March of 2016.
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