If Rupert small- and mid-sized businesses want to attract and retain workers that may be heading for opportunities on the waterfront with the port, they’ll need to up their training and communications tactics with their workers.
Echoing the results of the Prince Rupert-Port Edward Labour Study that show the area will have a hard time attracting workers to the retail and service sectors in the coming years, the Business Development Bank of Canada’s (BDC) 2017 Study on Investment Intentions of Canadian Entrepreneurs, released Jan. 16, show that much of Canada is in the same boat.
Despite an overall sense of growing confidence in the economy by businesses across Canada, BDC’s chief economist Pierre Cléroux noted that the province has seen a decline in investment intentions by businesses.
As well, 49 per cent of local businesses owners cited difficulty in finding qualified staff as the primary reason for not investing more to grow their business.
That’s nothing new for Prince Rupert and the surrounding area.
Small- and mid-sized businesses have had trouble for a few years now finding and retaining workers while competing with larger businesses like DP World which offers more competitive wages and training opportunities.
The answer lies in training, and communication, said Cléroux.
“Training has become very important. Our research is showing that most firms that are growing, the way they are attracting people is by offering more training,” he said. “It’s been hard for small businesses to retain people, but they seem to do it by offering flexibility. Often people find that when they work in a smaller environment they have a bigger impact on the business and they like that.”
However, despite a decline in investments, 72 per cent of business owners in B.C. expect their revenues to grow over 2016. Last year, that number stood at 55 per cent.
Online shopping has been another northern B.C. small business killer.
“As a retail store, if you want to continue to grow and continue to be competitive, you need to be online today. So you need a platform to attract the consumer … Sometimes they won’t buy it online, but they are looking online to look for a product,” he said.
“Even if you’re a small retailer and you believe that selling online is not a good business model, you have to have a website to explain to your consumer what you offer.”
Prince Rupert’s Gary Weick of Gary’s Lock and Security Shop on Second Avenue has seen the online phenomenon with his business.
“Any lock, especially the electronic locks, they look at our price and then they look online and decide they’re going to buy it online,” he said.
While retaining workers hasn’t been an issue for Weick; Joan has been with him for 37 years at the shop and his daughter Leanne’s pet store has also had success with keeping employees around.
“It’s really tough, you talk to any retail place and they have a hard time keeping people. It doesn’t matter if it’s Walmart or Subway … My nephew in Terrace (Terry) has been trying to hire a locksmith right across the country for a couple years,” he said.
“In this business you just can’t get anybody to show interest in it. They just want to go out and earn $45 an hour driving a truck.”
Personal satisfaction in the industry is also something that needs to be re-invigorated, Weick commented.
“Young people have to make a commitment and be interested in the job they’re doing. They’re not going to make $30 or $40 an hour right away, it’s going to take an apprenticeship, or learning a trade. It’s getting harder and harder to find anybody. Everyone’s in the fight now.”