British Columbia

Help wanted: B.C. mountain city of Fernie struggles to fill 200 job openings

A small city near the Rocky Mountains in southeastern British Columbia is struggling to find enough people to keep businesses sufficiently staffed.

WorkBC and Fernie Chamber of Commerce search for solutions

A recent survey by the Fernie Chamber of Commerce found 60 per cent of city businesses have unfilled positions. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

A small city in the Rocky Mountains in southeastern B.C. is struggling to find enough people to keep businesses sufficiently staffed.

Fernie, with a population of less than 5,000 according the most recent Statistics Canada census, has more than 200 open job positions from paramedics to retail to the trades.  

"We have nobody to fill those positions for employers," said Brenda Sutherland, marketing and community engagement liaison with WorkBC in the East Kootenay.

Usually, a job fair is hosted once a year in Fernie. The last winter fair only attracted 100 people, compared to the nearly 300 who usually show up.

Last week, a spring job fair was put on for the first time to bring attention to the abundance of openings.

"Hopefully we can start attracting people from Cranbrook, perhaps the Crowsnest Pass," Sutherland said,

A recent survey by the chamber found that 60 per cent of businesses in the city have unfilled positions and, of those, the majority had been advertising for more than a month. 

"Just about every business I speak to could use one or two more employees to be at full staff," said Patty Vadnais, the executive director of the Fernie Chamber of Commerce.

Shortage of workers across B.C.

The shortage of workers is not unique to Fernie, Vadnais said.

"When I talk to my counterparts in Revelstoke and Nelson, all of the mountain communities are feeling a crunch on labour and having enough people to fill all of the businesses needs," Vadnais said.

A combination of factors are at play from a lack of affordable housing — with around a 1.2% vacancy rate for rental housing in Fernie — and a growing influx of tourists and residents alike.

Some businesses are connecting with landlords to address housing issues, while others have started offering a carpooling service to help workers.

"It is a complex problem. We don't know what the solutions are," Vadnais said. "We are looking around the area for best practices to see what else is working and see what we can bring to Fernie."

With files from Daybreak South.