Okanagan business renews call for government action on labour shortage | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Okanagan business renews call for government action on labour shortage

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“Bold and decisive” action is needed to tackle the ongoing and longstanding shortage of labour in the Okanagan.

Those words were used in a recent news release from the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce but are applauded by the Kelowna chamber as well.

“Many vacancies go unfilled, meaning some businesses have reduced hours or are unable to complete orders,” Krystin Kempton, president of the Vernon Chamber, said in a news release. “This scenario is particularly common within the manufacturing, agricultural and retail sectors in the North Okanagan.”

The Vernon business group is sending a letter to senior government leaders urging action on things like affordable housing, training and immigration.

“We’ve identified this challenge the region is facing several years ago,” Dan Rogers, general manager of the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce told iNFOnews.ca, while praising the Vernon chamber for pushing governments for more help.

“We’ve seen it coming for quite some time because of our aging demographics and our high cost of housing,” Rogers said. “Labour force needs are a major challenge now and will be going forward. It will require a lot of work by a lot of different parties, including government, to address. It’s not going to go away overnight.”

Affordable housing is seen as one of the key hurdles to getting workers to come tos or stay in the region.

“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,” Kempton said.

The letter, addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier John Horgan and their respective finance and economic development ministers, calls for a labour study to determine why people are not taking jobs and what role COVID and government support programs play in that.

Recognizing there are no easy or quick solutions, it calls for things like immigration programs to be more open to the needs of local communities, a greater focus be put on skills training and to pursue a number of housing options and affordable, accessible day care.

“If we – government and other organizations that care about this community – don’t find ways to address market based affordable housing, that will be a detriment to our economic future and we will not continue to lead the nation in growth if we can’t continue to attract young entrepreneurs and families that see this as an affordable place to come to live and to work and to play,” Rogers said.

With the labour shortage likely being the number one issue facing businesses in Kelowna, he listed affordable housing as number two, followed by transportation as people are forced to live further and further away from work in order to afford their housing.

There are things employers can do as well, such as offering better work-life balances, enhanced benefits or to embrace new technology, he said.

“Innovation and technology will help small business to reduce our demands on our labour force,” Rogers said. “Those that are looking at automation or technology actually create more jobs. They’re just different ones – those that service the automation they implement, or that provide technical support – and, because of the advantage that comes with that, many of those businesses find they can be much more competitive globally and they start to grow when they make that investment in technology.”

While the Vernon Chamber’s letter is focused on actions that senior governments need to take, it recognizes that it will take more than just government.

“There is a need for government, employers, labour and communities to come together and determine solutions that allow business and communities to thrive,” Kempton said in the release.

To read the full letter go to the Vernon Chamber’s website here.

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