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Why so many Interior families have to choose between work and family

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October 05, 2017 - 8:00 PM

KAMLOOPS - Brent McFarlen is an electrician and a dad. But for the last six months, since he and his family moved to Kamloops from the Lower Mainland, it's been a challenge to be both at the same time.

He has peppered the city with resumes, but hasn’t been able to find full time work here. That means he has to leave his wife and his young son four nights a week to work in Surrey, staying with family in Delta, just to keep food on the table.

“It’s tough, we’ve learned to kind of cope with it for right now,” he says. “My son is three years old so it’s kind of tough on me not being there to see him kind of grow up but the time that I am home I cherish.”

Moving was a tough choice on its own, but one they had to take if they were ever going to buy a family home. They've long been priced out of real estate in the Lower Mainland and picked Kamloops. His wife got a transfer, but not McFarlen. Now, he spends the majority of his time away from his family while his wife has to work and parent a toddler on her own, most of the week.

“I’ve been staying on the coast four nights a week working, and I come home on the weekends,” McFarlen says. “I’ve peppered this city with resumes, I’ve applied to every company that’s looking for tradesman and I’ve even applied for a couple jobs outside of my trade.”

He’s not alone.

Many B.C. Interior families have come to rely on oil and gas development in Northern B.C. and Alberta, offering wages that made the family sacrifice more bearable. But tough times in the resource sector has made it tough for anyone seeking employment in Western Canada.

Kamloops and District Labour Council president Barb Nederpel told iNFOnews.ca in an email that the unemployment rate in the Thompson-Okanagan rose in 2015 and 2016 after it had been slowly recovering from the 2008 recession.

B.C.’s Jobs, Trade and Technology Minister Bruce Ralston said in an email statement that the downturn of oil and gas had an impact on employment last year, but things appear to be turning around in 2017.

“The Thompson-Okanagan region is recovering well in 2017 after being impacted by the downturn in the oil and gas industry in 2016,” Ralston said.

Statistics Canada recently released new numbers for the labour force, including job vacancies in specific occupations. In the first quarter of 2017, there were more than 7,100 job openings in the Thompson-Okanagan, compared to about 6,200 in the first quarter of 2016.

For the trades, transport and equipment operators field, there were 980 job vacancies in the region, compared to just 510 in the first quarter of 2016. The average hourly wage in that field in the first quarter of 2017 is about $22.60, compared to $19.55 in the first quarter of 2016.

There aren’t region-specific numbers available for part-time and full-time job vacancies, but in B.C. there were more than 68,000 job vacancies in the first quarter of 2017 compared to just over 61,300 at the same time last year.

All of these numbers indicate that employment in the Thompson-Okanagan is bouncing back from last year, and with an aging population, more full time work could become available over the years.

“The number of available jobs is growing faster than the labour force, which is helping to drive down the unemployment rate,” Ralston said. “The Thompson-Okanagan has an older population that is more likely to take on part-time work, which is contributing to the increase in part-time employment.”

It's a hopeful sign for people like McFarlen, but he’s hoping more infrastructure and bigger projects will come to the Interior to offer more work for local tradespeople.

“Without getting too deep into political issues it’d be really nice to see a local mine open up," he says. "It’s kind of led a lot of young tradespeople into believing that there may be a lot of work in Kamloops in the near future so it’d be nice to see a big change.”

On top of giving up time with his family, it’s costing him financially to work on the coast.

“You work hard to earn a decent living and I’m devoting quite a bit of my income just so that I can go back and forth so it’s pretty tough,” he says. “What I’m spending, I think, is on the low side compared to what other people might be spending.”

He says he’s heard from several other tradespeople who have similar complaints about the lack of full-time employment availability.

“A lot of the other electricians I talk to, they all tell me the same story that Kamloops is really saturated with electricians and there just doesn’t seem to be enough in-town work, a lot of families are suffering because the bread winner... of the family is always out of town and doesn’t get a chance to see their kids, or wives, or husbands, so it’s pretty common from what I’ve seen.”

McFarlen says he’s lucky that his wife’s family lives in the Lower Mainland so he doesn’t have to pay for additional accommodation while he works, but from groceries to vehicle maintenance, the money adds up. He says if things don’t turn around he’ll either have to stay working on the coast or try somewhere like Alberta.

Employment agencies like WorkBC are also on McFarlen’s to-do list. According to WorkBC, the industries where their clients have the most experience in the Thompson-Okanagan include construction, retail, hospitality, oil and gas, and the restaurant industry. Nearly half of WorkBC’s clients from 2012 to 2017 were 35 years old and younger.

Until he’s able to find in-town work, McFarlen will continue to support his family the best he can, while trying to spend whatever time he can in Kamloops. He hopes for some expansion of infrastructure and projects in the city.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Ashley Legassic or call 250-319-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2017
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