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Study asks West Kootenay employers if they would support recruitment agency

Employers and job seekers are invited to fill out online survey by Dec. 8
Consultant Mike Stolte (right) with Community Futures executive director Andrea Wilkey. People who fill out Stolte’s recruitment survey online can have their name entered into this draw box to win this iPad. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

The West Kootenay needs at least 1,000 new workers per year to fulfill local job requirements, according to a local consultant.

Mike Stolte says the entire Kootenay region will need 23,000 people per year over the next 10 years, citing provincial government predictions.

Stolte has been hired to assess whether the West Kootenay could support a job recruitment agency, and he’ll produce a report with recommendations by February. A recruitment agency would actively seek out job applicants for employers and charge a fee for this service.

One of the reasons for the labour shortage is that the rate of baby boomer retirements since COVID-19 has gone up by 50 per cent across the country, Stolte says.

“Before COVID, 200,000 boomers were leaving the workforce [annually] and now it’s 300,000,” Stolte says. “So it’s pretty significant.”

Stolte been contracted by a mix of West Kootenay employment-related agencies: Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce, Community Futures Central Kootenay, Selkirk College, Kootenay Career Development Society, Community Futures Greater Trail, Castlegar and District Chamber of Commerce, Destination Castlegar, Kootenay Employment Services, and Lower Columbia Initiatives Corp. The study is funded by the Province of B.C.

Andrea Wilkey, executive director of Community Futures Central Kootenay, is leading the organizations in the recruitment centre initiative.

“We have been hearing from more and more employers that the challenge of finding employees is hindering their ability to grow as businesses and stay in our community,” she says.

The old hiring method is to wait the the resumes to land in the employer’s inbox or on their desk, she says. Now, more innovative methods are needed, especially if recruiting needs to be done internationally.

A West Kootenay agency, if it is deemed feasible, would be the only one in B.C. outside of the Okanagan and larger urban centres.

Stolte and Wilkey both stress that the housing shortage is part of the problem, making it even more likely that employers could use some help with filling job vacancies.

People will accept jobs here, Stolte says, but then often turn them down because they can’t find housing.

To illustrate the problems some employers are facing, Stolte gives the example of a construction company in the East Kootenay two years ago that was trying to find a carpenter.

The company had used all the usual online job boards and were unsuccessful. Then they hired a recruiter at $90 per hour, and still had no luck. They considered hiring an agency from Vancouver that specializes in construction, but they would have been charged $18,000, because the recruiting company charges 25 per cent of the first-year salary.

“And (the construction company) said, ‘I would have thought this was impossible a few years ago, but I would even rent out my house and live in a trailer to get a construction worker.’”

Stolte says he has been checking in with other recruitment agencies to learn about their activities, and has found that a 25 per cent rate is typical.

The four industries hit worst by the labour shortage nationally are health care, hospitality, construction and trades, and tech, and he sees no reason to believe that the West Kootenay is any different.

Fill out the survey

To research his report, Stolte is using three methods: a survey, focus groups, and individual employer interviews.

The are two surveys, one for employees at and another for employers at The deadline is Dec. 8, and participants will be entered into a draw to win an iPad.

Stolte is inviting workers from outside the Kootenays to fill out the survey as well.

“We’re trying to hit other markets like Kelowna and Calgary, to see whether there are reservations about being in the Kootenays, or what they perceive it to be like.”

One of the questions on the employer survey asks what percentage of the worker salary they would be willing to pay for recruitment help.

As for the employer focus groups, Stolte has completed these discussions in Trail, Castlegar, Creston and Nelson with six-to-eight employers in each.

“Early indications are that people are struggling with recruitment and retention more so than they ever have.”

Stolte says he is also interviewing West Kootenay employers individually, mostly companies or agencies with large work forces.

As part of his research, Stolte has looked at worker mobility, and found that over the past 20 years, 75 per cent of new B.C. residents have moved here from Ontario (30 per cent) or Alberta (45 per cent). This is an indicator of where B.C. marketing or recruitment efforts could be focused, he says.

Stolte says that for years there has been an equal number of people (approximately 29,000 people annually) moving from B.C. to Alberta as from Alberta to B.C. But this year, for the first time, there is a small net outflow from B.C.

Related to issues of recruitment is employee retention. How do you keep employees once you have them?

“I’m trying to make some recommendations on best practices for retention,” says Stolte, “because it’s way cheaper to retain them to keep churning through employees.”

Another side issue that Stolte will address in his report is whether the West Kootenay needs a temp agency to cover employee vacations, seasonal work, or other temporary employment situations.


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The West Kootenay needs at least 1,000 new workers per year to fulfill local job requirements, according to a local consultant. Photo: Sora Shimazaki/Pexels

Bill Metcalfe

About the Author: Bill Metcalfe

I have lived in Nelson since 1994 and worked as a reporter at the Nelson Star since 2015.
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