British Columbia

Help wanted: What the labour shortage means for Metro Vancouver

Take a stroll past Main Street's shops, restaurants and cafes and you’re bound to come across countless signs advertising jobs.

'We are just continuously hiring,' says owner of soap shop on Main Street

Several small businesses on Main Street in Vancouver are looking for workers. (Google)

Help Wanted is the new catch phrase on East Vancouver's Main Street.

Take a stroll past its shops, restaurants and cafes and you're bound to come across a sign advertising a job. 

"We are just continuously hiring," Linh Truong, owner of The Soap Dispensary, said Monday morning.

She said the competition for workers is stiff.

"My neighbours have had to close a few days a week because they don't have enough staff to stay open every day. We are lucky enough and do have enough staff to be open every day."

Still, reduced staffing has meant longer wait times for customers, Truong said.

Brian Tran, co-owner of The August Market, has equally struggled with hiring staff.

He can't offer the same benefits as larger grocers and the problem is made worse by the high cost of living in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood.

"In order to stay in this area, you're going to need a good-paying job," he said.

Mom-and-pop shops aren't the only ones struggling.

Industries across Metro Vancouver are struggling to hire and retain staff as housing prices soar and wages stagnate.

CBC's On the Coast is launching the week-long series "Help Wanted" to tackle what the labour shortage means for the region.

Job vacancies in the thousands

From cooks to construction workers to tech gurus, the shortage of skilled labour is growing.

The recent boom in B.C.'s tech sector means that it will be short an estimated 35,000 workers in the next five years, according to a recent study by the the BC Tech Association.

The study found that a tech worker in B.C. makes on average $83,000 a year.

"Compared to the average wages in the Lower Mainland and across B.C., that's probably a 50-per-cent premium to what people typically take," Bill Tam, the association's CEO, told host Stephen Quinn.

"That's a trend you want to see more people take advantage of."

The high wages are offset by Vancouver's exceedingly high cost of living, which makes it a challenge to recruit from other cities, Tam said.

The BC Rental Housing index estimates that 45 percent of renter households spend more than 30 per cent of their income on rent — the threshold that's considered unaffordable.

Targeting underemployed groups

Restaurant workers are worse off, with cooks in B.C. earning an average wage of $16.55 per hour.

"I don't think people quite see a cook in a restaurant as glamorous as we saw a few years back," said Ian Tostenson, CEO of the BC Restaurant and Food Services Association.

"The fact is that there's more restaurants than workers."

Tostenson said employers could bump wages, but the profit margins for independent restaurants are often so slim that they risk shutting down.

The restaurant industry is instead targeting underemployed groups with the lure of benefits and new skills.

"This industry has resilience and a way of figuring things out," he said.

Tune in to On The Coast on Tuesday to learn more what about the labour shortage means for young workers looking for jobs.