Christine Willow of Chemistry Consulting says the strong employment market has made it more difficult for companies to hire seasonal workers. Wolf Depner/News Staff

Victoria employers struggle to keep pace with holiday rush

Reports suggest seasonal hiring will outperform previous years

True to the body shape of the season’s central character, employment during the winter experiences a seasonal bulge as companies hire additional staff to handle the busy shopping season.

While no formal statistics exist, a quick search through the various job sites underscores this point. Indeed.com lists 89 seasonal jobs within 25 kilometres of Victoria, ranging across retail, horticulture, transportation and hospitality. Monster.ca lists 30 seasonal jobs with postings overlapping Indeed.com.

Available jobs include delivery drivers, sales associates, cashiers and landscape workers – in short, all the types of jobs needed during a season that combines mass consumerism with festive horticulture.

In fact, Indeed.com predicts that overall seasonal hiring in 2017 is on pace to beat previous years, with wages rising accordingly, according to published reports.

These figures, of course, fail to capture the hidden job market, which is really not so hidden, if you consider all the help-wanted signs adorning various fast food restaurants.

There lies the trouble for companies looking for seasonal staff. With Victoria’s unemployment rate hovering around 3.3 per cent – below the threshold of what economists consider full employment – local companies looking to fill additional jobs are having a hard time.

Christine Willow, partner in Chemistry Consulting Group, a human resource consulting firm, says seasonal positions are difficult to fill for a number of reasons.

First, seasonal jobs are less attractive, because people already have jobs. Second, people have choices. “Someone may start the position, then is offered a full time position elsewhere,” she said. Third, conflicting work schedules may make it difficult to take on another position. Fourth, university and college students, a traditional source of seasonal labour, tend to go home for the holidays, said Willow.

Ultimately, this combination of factors has complicated the search for seasonal labour, and companies are looking for various ways to keep their staff and find new ones.

Willow has heard anecdotes about companies, who are promoting people to supervisory positions that may not be ready for those or have little experience.

“Retailers are [also] focusing on seniors to fill the demand,” she said.

Simply put, if you are looking for work, whether seasonal or full-time, the choice is yours.

“The numbers could not be better if you are looking for work these days,” said Willow.

She especially sees this phenomenon on the other side of her business — GT Hiring Solutions — which offers employment services for the unemployed.

Over the past three years, the client volume has dropped over 60 per cent, she said. “People with minimal or no challenges and who want to work, can find work,” she said.

The national figures also bear this out. National unemployment in November 2017 was around 5.9 per cent, the lowest it has been since February 2008.

But every bulge has its reckoning. While the Canadian economy continues to create jobs – the Organisation for Economic Co-operation (OECD) predicts Canada will lead all G7 countries with a Gross Domestic Product of three per cent in 2018 — some issues loom on the horizon. They include questions about the sustainability of consumer borrowing, as Canadians lead the world in terms of debt, according to the OECD.

Economists also warn of cooling real estate markets. While their previous appreciations have helped fuel spending, pending changes to mortgage rules promise to slow down economic growth, with effects on the job market. This said, Victoria has strong fundamentals.

“Victoria has a diverse economy, with employment being strong in many sectors,” said Willow. We have [education], government, health care, a growing [technology] sector and booming tourism. This all plays into the low unemployment rate. We are not a ‘one horse’ town.”

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