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Is Squamish still an employee's market? Insights from WorkBC

Squamish employment update: A conversation with Natalie Perreault from WorkBC Employment Services Centre sheds light on current job trends and economic challenges.
What is your experience with the current Squamish job market? We would love to hear from you. Write [email protected].

Given that inflation has taken a bite out of many individuals' and businesses' budgets of late, is the Squamish job market feeling the pinch too?

That is the question The Squamish Chief turned to WorkBC to find out. 

We caught up with Natalie Perreault, program manager with the Sea to Sky WorkBC Employment Services Centre, late last week for a wide-ranging chat on all things jobs in Squamish. 

What follows is a version of that conversation edited for length and clarity. 

Question: We see so much on the news about how hard inflation has hit in some places, with heavy job losses. Squamish is not seeing the big drop off in jobs seen in some areas of the U.S. or Canada, right? 

Answer: I don't want to say that Squamish is immune to that, but we are a little bit insulated. I think that it depends on the industry. The tech industry is one of those industries that is a little volatile. But we do seem to have a resilient economy; we keep on pushing through.

For newcomers to Squamish, of which there are many, what do you tell them are the dominant industries here?

The most dominant industry is retail and sales, followed by construction and trades. There are a lot of other emerging sectors, such as technology, and businesses related to the circular economy; those kinds of things that may not be as visible but are definitely emerging.

You'll see businesses that are more related to climate, or organizations that are doing environmental management, for example.

Those are definitely areas that I know that Squamish is really trying to attract and grow, hence why they're emerging.

What kind of jobs are the most available right now in Squamish? 

Retail, customer service, construction, trades—those are probably the most sought after. 

With construction, you are going to see a wide variety. It just depends on the time of year. One that tends to come up a lot is carpenters and also skilled labourers. 

Are there any trends or changes in the types of skills employers are seeking?

Given the job market, which has a labour shortage, we're seeing employers who are a little bit more flexible on skills that are trainable. So, someone who doesn't have any experience that maybe has the right personality, the right motivation, and the interest, employers are willing to consider those candidates, because a lot of those skills can be trained, followed by some further education, of course. 

So employers are looking at why somebody wants to work there and making sure that people are aligned, because, again, with the labour shortages that we're experiencing, employers are having to be a little bit more flexible. It all depends on the occupation. Of course, there are certain occupations where you definitely have to have the training.

How is remote work impacting the local job market now?

That's an interesting topic. I think employers are considering it, if they can. However, there is a lot of work where that is not possible. On the flip side of that, we're also hearing from people who have been working remotely for quite some time, who are leaving remote work and are actually looking for work that gets them back into the office. I don't know exactly what that percentage looks like, but I think some people are looking for that human contact. Remote can be good, but it also has deficits. So, there's a good strong demand, but we're also seeing some businesses are just not able to accommodate remote work or it's just not possible; while at the same time some employers are looking at how they include that as a benefit or flexibility in their workplace.

How about wages?

From my perspective, we have seen some wages increase. At the same time, some have not. We have predominantly a lot of small businesses in Squamish, so a lot of employers are definitely trying to increase wages. But they are also competing with larger employers that have the profit margins and revenue to be able to offer higher wages. It's still a work in progress. I think that the economy is still recovering to some degree. 

Now, with the new pay transparency law,  I think that that's actually going to be really good for job seekers. We have had wage ranges on our site for a long time, based on the census and averages across the province. But with wage transparency, the real intention of that is to minimize the pay discrepancy between men and women. I think that's going to be pretty significant in providing some clarity on that.

Let's look at employers. What are the struggles they're having?

Housing is the number one struggle; it is the thorn in the side, I'm sure, of many employers. We are seeing some employers who have staff, too, whose employees have to leave because they lost their housing and can't find anything else. 

We are seeing employers, too, who won't hire unless the potential employee has housing in place. Childcare is still really strong as another barrier. And that's not just normal daycare; we're talking about before and after school care as well. 

What are some of the struggles that WorkBC sees employees having? 

One of the things that we see sometimes is wage-related. Sometimes, the wage someone is seeking isn't realistic for the job that they are looking at.

I would also say that sometimes mental health and disabilities are challenges for job seekers—whether that's permanent, or temporary, or if it's physical or cognitive, or addictions. I think that it's even a bigger factor for some people than it was, due to the pandemic.

The country and even North AMerica struggle with these issues. People who didn't have a mental health condition before the pandemic, might have developed one afterwards. And, also, the remoteness of work is creating other mental health issues because we're losing some of that social connection. 

I think that this is something we need to be more openly talking about, especially with employment retention, and things like that.

Are you seeing that some Squamish businesses are accommodating for those challenges?

Absolutely. There's definitely some employers who are very accommodating. I think employers are definitely listening and accommodating where they can. That is certainly a trend that I hope continues to move forward, because it is certainly something that is not going to go away. And we have some really great talent. Sometimes there’ll be an individual who is really good for the job and just needs a little bit of flexibility. 

The age-old question, what do employers want from job seekers— is it still a resume and cover letter? 

It depends on the employer. Because we're kind of in this limbo stage, and we have some employers who could care less about a cover letter while others want the cover letter, the rule of thumb is, unless they specifically state they don't want it, include it. That is your marketing tool. Nobody ever plans to do a really long job search, they usually want to be done and over with, so just put your best foot forward. 

Squamish is a very young town and it gets a little harder the older you get to find work. Do you have any words of wisdom?

You might be more mature within a younger workforce, but employers can really use that to their advantage, especially with the labour shortages. Older individuals usually have housing, and they are reliable and they may have a lot of experience, and they're committed. Age is just a number, after all. I think that everyone should be given a fair chance.

It's nice to have some diversity in the workplace.

It's a good opportunity to really soak up as much knowledge, especially from people who have been around much longer than most of us. So, I think more mature employees have a lot to offer.

Can you explain what WorkBC can do to help job seekers to get a job or change jobs? 

We can help individuals explore different occupations. We can help them get acquainted with the labour market and understand the kinds of jobs there are and what to expect. We can help them with their job search or just even with incentives to help them increase their chances. We also have access to skills training that may help enhance somebody's skillset so that they can get a better job. And we have a really popular program called the Self Employment Program that seems to do really well in the Sea to Sky. It is for those who are considering being an entrepreneur.

Find out more on the WorkBC Squamish website or in person at 302 - 37989 Cleveland Ave. from Monday to Friday.

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