It’s been a whirlwind of a year for Red Deer-based Tornado Global Hydrovacs, a company that manufactures and sells hydrovac trucks for excavation service providers in the construction, infrastructure and oil and gas industries.
The company’s outlook is positive. It expects to continue to grow in 2023 as it builds back from the debilitating impact of the pandemic. In the past year, it’s gone from 80 employees to 160. Demand for its trucks is increasing, and the company says it wants to take advantage of increased production capacity at its new 60,000-square-foot manufacturing facility.
But it faces a major and familiar hurdle for so many businesses: finding enough employees.
“We’re trying to fill vacancies every day,” said Rockford Rollins, the company’s vice-president of operations.
“We struggle to find people … the turnaround is quite high, attrition is quite high. We’ve had to raise our minimum wage,” he said.
A number of Red Deer businesses are highlighting ongoing labour shortages as a serious problem that’s impacting business and economic growth, according to the local chamber of commerce.
“We’ve got quite a few businesses that are struggling to find people, especially in the service industry, the construction industry, those types of industries,” said Scott Robinson, the CEO of the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce.
A recent survey of its members found 60 per cent of businesses who responded said they are experiencing “a moderate to significant” labour shortage. Eighty-two per cent of businesses said they are experiencing “a labour shortage on some level.”
Rollins says it seems like they’re hiring and firing people on a regular basis. Some people don’t work out, while some others get hired but don’t show up.
“We just had two people that we had to terminate today. We get people and they show up for a few days and leave,” he said.
Robinson says the number of job vacancies allows people to be more selective when choosing a job.
“I think there’s just so much choice out there that people looking for work are more picky and more selective and can be, and good for them,” he said.
According to Statistics Canada, the most recent numbers show more than 103,000 job vacancies in Alberta.
The Red Deer survey also found high operating costs due to inflation, labour shortages and supply chain issues were affecting business.
Limited labour pool
Robinson says businesses have identified three barriers to finding employees:
- Skills and experience.
- A small local hiring pool.
- Real versus expected wages.
He says the Red Deer region needs to do more to market and promote itself as a destination for people to work and live.
“It’s such a great community, from a family point of view, from a recreation point of view. It’s so beautifully located between Edmonton and Calgary, so ease of access to airports — all those types of things,” he said.
“Labour is a competitive commodity. And if you don’t make it attractive for people to come, then you know, they’re not going to do that,” he said.
Robinson says immigration, temporary foreign workers, encouraging older workers to stay longer or return to the workforce, and extending job grants to international students could help fill some job vacancies.
“Those are the kinds of things that we want to try and get changed so that we can increase the pool of labour for our region,” he said.
Rollins says the limited local labour pool is a major hurdle.
“We’re just bound by the local talent, how many people we can access. We could easily hire 10 more people right now,” he said.
Rollins says they would actually like to hire as many as 40 employees to support new three- and four-day 10-hour shifts. But those plans will have to wait for now.
Robinson says the chamber will take part in a labour summit in March along with the Central Alberta Economic Partnership and Community Futures. The idea is to share ideas, success stories and best practices in finding those elusive workers.
‘Worth their weight in gold’
Kelly Vopni, one of the owners of Goodmen Roofing, says the construction industry is desperate to find qualified apprentices and other workers. They have approximately 80 employees but are looking for more.
“They’re worth their weight in gold these days,” he said.
Vopni says wages have gone up and they’re offering $500 incentives if an employee recommends a friend for a job. Employees are also given incentives if they stay with the company for six months.
But it’s still a challenge.
“Projects take longer, staff work more hours, if they’re willing. It’s a struggle,” he said.
He says more students are enrolled in trades programs at Red Deer Polytecnic and the local construction association has raised $130,000 for scholarships.
It’s one longer term fix to a problem that local business leaders say needs an immediate solution.
Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.
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