Too hot to handle

In 2001, the government introduced the six-dollar-an-hour training wage, much to the horror of the labour movement. It was a move intended to encourage companies to hire students, who would benefit from the work experience, but today the tables have turned. It’s employers who are desperate for workers, and not many can attract them by paying a measly six bucks an hour. In fact, the government is now contemplating dropping the training wage because it has become irrelevant. Who’d have thought an economy could be too hot? When you have an unemployment rate of about five per cent, it means nearly everyone who wants to work, or can work, is working.
I’ve even heard from employers who have started paying incentives to get people to come to work, and offered them thousands of dollars in loans that will be forgiven if they stay two years. Nat Bastone, president of Nat’s New York Pizzeria, fears he’s going to lose his business because he can’t find staff. He hasn’t received a single application for a much-advertised job. His company has made numerous efforts to find help. It has advertised in many papers, put jobs on its website and posted on job boards at local colleges. Positions that used to be filled by word of mouth are getting no response. Nat’s hasn’t been a struggling business, anything but: his sales have increased every year since 1992. But his shop is in Kitsilano, and that’s expensive real estate. Young people can’t afford to live there, at least not on service-industry wages.

B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair wants the minimum wage raised by two bucks. But are you willing to pay a lot more for pizza? I’m sure Tim Hortons could raise the wage it pays, and so could Starbucks or Blenz, but how much more do you want to pay for your latte or sandwich? The owners of the pizza shop work 14-hour days, six days a week and are worried sick that they can’t make it work. What are the answers? Higher minimum wages and the higher prices that come with them? Encouraging seniors to come back to work to help fill labour shortages?

I don’t know how many seniors feel like flipping burgers, but perhaps some might be bored or in need of some extra money to top up their pensions. We might have to encourage more unskilled immigration, too, but those immigrants are still going to face the challenge of living in Canada’s most expensive city. This problem is even worse in Alberta, where the oil sands are paying six-figure wages for people with limited skills but a willingness to work.

There may be opportunities for capable people with disabilities who have been overlooked in the past. Right now is a time when the post office and retail stores start looking for extra help at Christmas. Will there be people for those jobs? I spoke with the premier recently, who told me one of his concerns is that we will have a million new jobs coming down the road in the next decade, but lack the population to fill them.

The front end of the baby boom is now hitting 60, and as those people move through the next five years, most will be planning to retire. Already, we have a shortage of doctors, and nurses. That’s going to get worse over the next decade right when most of us will start needing far more medical care than we’ve ever needed before. University professors will be retiring in record numbers. Police and firefighters are aging and the next generation just doesn’t have the numbers necessary to replace them. Have you looked at the lineup of motorcycles on a B.C. ferry lately? Even the bikers have grey hair, if they have any left. It looks like even the Hells Angels are going to face a demographic problem.