Labour shortage worsening in B.C.

B.C. employers continue to grapple with job vacancies, according to the latest Statistics Canada data.

The agency estimated that there were 101,945 unfilled positions in B.C. during 2019’s first quarter, up 10% from the same quarter in 2018. While growth in job vacancies is comparable with the national picture, relative shortages are more acute in B.C. At 4.4% of filled and unfilled positions, B.C.’s job vacancy rate was more than a full percentage point above any other province. Job openings have outpaced employment growth of near 3%.

The second-highest job vacancy rate was in Quebec (3.1%). Correspondingly, B.C. has consistently recorded the lowest unemployment rate over the past year.

Among regions, the Lower Mainland-Southwest posted the highest job vacancy rate (4.9%) despite solid population gains. North Coast and Northeast rates were also high (3.9%) as job opportunities ramped up in response to liquefied natural gas projects.

The latest job vacancy statistics suggest employers need to up their game to attract workers through wage hikes or other non-pecuniary benefits such as flexible working arrangements, improved extended health and other incentives. The alternative is to increase productivity through investments in technology or outsource some work to less competitive regions.

On the retail front, sales backtracked in April after a promising March gain to extend the soft trend observed over the past year albeit with a number of bright spots. B.C. dollar-volume sales fell 0.5% from March to a seasonally adjusted $7.2 billion, which was 1% below same-month 2018.

Declines were led by the Vancouver census metropolitan area (CMA), which recorded declines of 1.7% from March and 4.4% year-over-year, as sales rose in the rest of the province.

The decline in headline sales volume primarily reflected lower sales of motor vehicles and parts, which fell 10.5% year-over-year in April.

In contrast, our measure of core retail sales, which excludes motor vehicle sales and gasoline, and better reflects current demand, rose in April to extend a mild positive trend. It was up 2.4% year-over-year and likely reflects labour market strength and population gains.

Year-to-date, overall sales were up a scant 1.2% over the first four months.

Sales in the Vancouver CMA declined 1.4%, driven by a near 10% decline in motor vehicle and parts sales.

Sales in the rest of B.C. rose 3.7%. This figure excludes e-commerce retail, which is rising at a double-digit pace in Canada but is still only 3% of total retail spending. 

Bryan Yu is deputy chief economist at Central 1 Credit Union.