Labour Shortage – There are Two Sides to the Coin.

We are hearing and reading a lot in the media about the labour shortage that Saskatchewan is currently facing, especially around entry-level service industry positions(1). Typically, concerns over this shortage are centered on the employers perspective, but there is another side to this story that should be examined: what is really going on for job seekers in an economy that seems to constantly be looking for workers?

Quint’s employment program supports hundreds of job seekers a year, many of whom would be interested in applying for the entry-level positions that companies claim are hard to fill. We checked in with some of our Employment Coordinators and explored: why does this labour gap continue to persist? While the answer is not simple or clear cut, there are certainly some contributing factors we can highlight. So let’s try to understand this from the perspective of job seekers and employees.

1. Entry-level jobs are not sustainable. Even with an increase in Saskatchewan’s minimum wage to $13.00 on October 1, this is not a livable wage and people are struggling to make ends meet. Inflation is a real challenge, along with transportation costs, childcare, etc. As a result, many people are actively seeking a second job to offset living costs once employed in these positions, and sometimes it simply isn’t a sustainable situation for those making minimum wage.

The inherent struggle here is finding a wage that is livable for entry level workers, at a time when employers are also facing rising costs and inflation.

2. Rigid work environments within the industry. Post-pandemic, there has been a lot of discussion highlighting the need for more flexible and responsive workplaces that consider the realities facing people outside of work hours. However, many job seekers are finding that entry level positions are sticking to the “status quo” and not providing their employees the flexibility many are needing.

In order to recruit and retain employees, employers may start to look at what are some “value added” benefits they can offer employees. For example, flexibility on start times to accommodate transportation and child-care schedules could be one immediate measure employers could enact to support retention over turnover/vacant positions.

3. Perceptions of entry-level workers. The pandemic spotlighted a minimum dollar amount that a person should receive monthly in order to survive. In Saskatchewan, most entry-level workers did not make those kind of dollars even when working full time, and returning to challenging and demanding work at a low level of income has been tough.

As a result, there can be negative perceptions that job seekers are lazy, entitled, or unwilling to work. Another way to think about this, is that the high level of vacancies allow for people to seek out employers who offer a competitive wage, one that properly compensates them for the work they are doing. What some may perceive as a lack of loyalty to an employer or unwillingness to work, may actually be the result of an individual choosing the option that best allows them to survive.

Ultimately, this is a tricky situation where all people involved are struggling and a straightforward solution is not clear. Examining this from the job-seeker perspective does provide insight into the realities they face and opportunities for employers to examine the practices, policies and wage scales that may be exacerbating the issues or ultimately become part of the solution.

(1) The Star Phoenix published an Article on September 27, 2022 titled: “Help Wanted: Labour shortages gnaw at Sask. tourism, retail sectors.” This article details the struggles of employers trying to hire for entry level positions in this sector including: Food and beverage servers, hotel front desk clerks, food counter attendants and kitchen helpers. Currently this industry has a job vacancy rate of 13% or 5,095 open positions across the province.