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Shortage of workers has Chemainus business owners scrambling

Students returning to school soon likely to compound the problem of filling jobs
It’s all hands on deck to serve customers for Public Market in Chemainus owner/operator Patricia Berry and employee Leah Howard. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Chemainus business owners are being forced to work longer hours themselves, juggle schedules and close at different times on short notice due to an extreme labour shortage being experienced in communities across the country.

There’s jobs aplenty available and not enough people to fill them.

“I could offer five people, for sure, full-time work,” said Patricia Berry, owner-operator of The Public Market in Chemainus.

Same for Julie Stevens of Canteen on the Green at the Mount Brenton Golf Course and Maple Lane Catering, who says she could easily add six more people to her staff. Others mainly in the restaurant and hospitality field need more employees, but many industries are in the same boat.

The situation is likely to get worse before it gets better, with summer students who have filled some major gaps on the brink of returning to school.

“Hard-working students helped keep doors open in summer,” said Berry.

“Come September, I lose everybody. I have no employees. The market is going to be me and some after-school kids.”

The market contains three food/coffee locations and two employees have only recently been hired at Captain Andy’s Fish and Chips. “I won’t have anybody for Coffee Row or Archie’s,” noted Berry.

“It’s life or death for businesses right now. Some places are just folding because of it.”

Related story: Berry brings marketing experience to the market

With their locations open seven days a week, it’s up to owners like Berry and Stevens to meet the needs of customers.

“Literally, 12-hour days, no joke,” Berry indicated.

“For me, I’m working seven days a week, early mornings, late nights to get the work done because we don’t have enough people,” added Stevens. “There’s nobody applying.

“It’s very difficult there’s not enough workers. You can only work the current staff you have so many hours and it’s left up to me. I’m getting pretty tired.”

Related story: High job numbers seem overly rosy

“The labour shortage has been very real for many of our local businesses here in Chemainus,” explained Krystal Adams, executive director of the Chemainus Business Improvement Association. “They have done all sorts of recruiting efforts including some spending hundreds on recruiting websites like Indeed for many months. Some businesses have had to curtail hours or days because of this and many cannot take in the demand of customers that they have. Currently, we have jobs for many positions from managers to chefs, but mostly servers are highly-needed in the town and region.

“What many people don’t yet realize is that we are about to face a second shortage when the students return to school within the next few weeks. This will leave some businesses running on a skeleton staff. There are businesses in the Cowichan Valley on the brink of collapse because they are not taking days off or are trying to operate filling shifts within the business as well as run it and for some that is just not sustainable.”

Adams added Chemainus businesses owners and operators care so much for their customers they’re unwilling to sacrifice quality for quantity and doing everything possible to ensure the best service.

“This isn’t just a town specific challenge, we have had many discussions from a regional level with many groups and none of us have any good solutions,” she pointed out. “We are so proud of the people and staff running Chemainus businesses, showing up through waves of the pandemic every day making sure the customers get a great experience. They truly are exceptional people.”

There’s a lot more to the problem that many people might not know about, according to Emily Weeks, the managing director of the Chemainus & District Chamber of Commerce.

“The labour shortage is beyond devastating and caused by a multitude of reasons – not just COVID,” she explained.

One factor is the Canada Recovery Benefit due to expire on Sept. 25 has been extended through to the end of October.

“There was light at the end of the tunnel,” said Berry. “We thought CRB was ending. This extension is pushing us past the breaking point.”

In short, there hasn’t been a lot of incentive for people collecting the benefit to return to work until it’s discontinued.

“Due to COVID, most people working in the tourism, hospitality and food and beverage industry were laid off, making the entire sector seem unstable and less attractive,” noted Weeks. “COVID has made it more achievable to work for an organization that allows you to work from home or with a flexible hybrid model, meaning you can now live and travel anywhere in the world and still have a job.”

Other factors she pointed out include: a blatant lack of affordable housing and rental opportunities, meaning employees would need to commute; a lack of convenient public transportation options in and out of town that means employees would need to own a car; the current cost of living is not compatible with most of the wages offered in our region; less foreign nationals coming in on working visas; our local population is increasing with those in the retired demographic, not the working demographic; and staff are also just fed up with the abuse that can be received in the customer service industry.

“Our businesses have fought tirelessly to survive for as long as they have, only to be faced with an entirely different crisis,” added Weeks. “Now things are re-opening, tourists are coming and there’s no staff to serve them at a time when our businesses need this long-anticipated influx in customers to be able to recover. Businesses are experiencing sporadic closures, less offerings and delayed service times due to this staffing crisis, which is in turn causing frustration with tourists and pain points in the visitor experience.”

Businesses in the district are being urged to let the Chamber know if they are hiring, which will allow for the creation of an inclusive and comprehensive digital and physical job board.

“We will put out digital postings through our website, e-news blasts and social media posts in the coming days,” noted Weeks. “A physical job board will be displayed in our poster boards outside the visitor centre.

“This endeavour is not only to help potential employees connect with employers, but to create awareness within the community that our businesses need help. Please be patient with the staff in our community that are showing up during these unprecedented times.”

For those who are hiring, notify the Chamber by email at or call 250-737-3370.

Public Market in Chemainus owner/operator Patricia Berry with Leah Howard, one of her new employees at Captain Andy’s. More employees are going to be needed to keep things running at the market. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Julie Stevens pouring beer as part of her abundant duties at the Canteen on the Green at Mount Brenton Golf Course. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Don Bodger

About the Author: Don Bodger

I've been a part of the newspaper industry since 1980 when I began on a part-time basis covering sports for the Ladysmith-Chemainus Chronicle.
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