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Surrey businesses having a rough time hiring, keeping staff

Surrey Board of Trade trying to ‘drill down’ on the reasons why
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Surrey businesses are having a rough time finding and retaining employees, particularly in the realm of jobs involving lower pay.

“We’re trying to drill down on what the reasons are for this immediate, significant skills and labour crunch during the pandemic,” Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, told the Now-Leader on Thursday. “Every single day at least one phone call is received from one of our members, or even a non-member, saying, ‘We need help trying to find labour.’

“This is a real test of the economy, to see if businesses can survive without that wage subsidy that they relied on,” she added.

The Surrey Board of Trade is one of Canada’s top 1o largest chambers of commerce or boards of trade, with 6,000-member business contacts.

Huberman is hearing from employers large and small who report hiring employees only for them to be “poached” by another businesses within a few months. Surrey businesses are experiencing “such significant challenges,” not only trying to find employees with the right skills, but also keeping them.

“They’re having to pay them more in order to compete,” she said. “They have to pay some kind of a bonus signing fee prior to starting their employment, as a lure to join that business or that organization. It really is a competition for talent.

“The cost of living continues to escalate in Metro Vancouver, so it is a common issue and our whole work force program has escalated during the pandemic in terms of bridging that supply and demand, whether it’s with people on EI, immigrants looking for jobs, up-skilling and re-skilling programs, so it is a huge issue.

“Honestly, how can you live on $2,000 a month in Metro Vancouver? We have the highest cost of living in Canada, here, and that includes Surrey.”

Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman. (File photo)

Huberman said that in some kinds of businesses the problem is more severe, such as in tourism, hospitality and restaurants.

“Even the construction sector is lacking in terms of finding the staff that they need in this very growing development construction industry that we have in Surrey,” Huberman said. “Also in manufacturing, they’re having challenges too.”

Meantime, the COVID-19 pandemic has also brought with it a bureaucratic headache of red tape for local businesses resulting in spiralling costs for them to comply with regulations, a recent survey conducted by the Surrey Board of Trade reveals.

“An increasing number of our respondents are finding regulatory compliance compromising growth and innovation,” Huberman noted.

“COVID-19 requirements have increased the cost and time spent on compliance for all industry sectors. We need to ensure that governments improve efficiency in order to limit the pressure on the business community, so that our economy can recover and grow. Perhaps we need to bring back a red tape reduction minister or official concept at all levels of government.”

READ ALSO: Surrey businesses less tangled with government red tape, survey indicates

READ ALSO: Surrey’s economic recovery from pandemic driven by resource, ‘knowledge-based’ industries

Prior to the pandemic, in November 2019 some 71.8 per cent of respondents to a similar survey said red tape had a ‘moderate to major’ impact on their business.

In 2020 that climbed to 82 per cent, and most recently 84.1 per cent of some 800 respondents to the Surrey Board of Trade’s 2021 Red Tape Survey reported that the “overall cost” of complying with regulations and paperwork required by all levels of government has increased over the past two years.

According to an executive summary of the report, 82 per cent of respondents said this has had a “moderate to major” impact on their daily business, up by 11 per cent compared to 2020’s survey.

Agencies generating the most red tape for businesses, the 2021 report indicates, are the Canada Revenue Agency and WorkSafeBC.

The majority of respondents to the board’s latest survey have a workforce of between 11 and 50 employees.

Ravi Kahlon, provincial minister of jobs, economic recovery and innovation noted on Nov. 5, following the release of Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey for October, that B.C. has the nation’s second-lowest rate of unemployment at 5.6 per cent.

“We continue to lead all provinces with a job recovery rate of 101.9 per cent,” said Kahlon, NDP MLA for Delta North. “There are now 51,000 more British Columbians employed than at the start of the pandemic – that’s a direct result of people, businesses and communities working together to get through these tough times.

“However,” he added, “the effects of the pandemic will continue to be felt for many months. As we have done since the beginning of this pandemic, our government will be there to support people and businesses as we build a strong recovery for everyone.”

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About the Author: Tom Zytaruk

I write unvarnished opinion columns and unbiased news reports for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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