Andy Lewis of Mile One Mobile, a truck servicing and repair firm based near Ottawa, says he can’t keep up with the entry-level salaries the city is able to offer to experienced mechanics.
The municipal government, which needs technicians to repair things like snowplows, backhoes and city trucks, is paying newly minted mechanics the kind of hourly salary that Lewis reserves for someone with years on the job.
On top of that, due to Ontario’s recent minimum wage hike, he says now has to pay $14 an hour to “babysit” a young apprentice who “can’t change a headlight.”
With clients paying $90 an hour and two mechanics on staff who make $35 an hour, the shop owner said he’s barely breaking even.
Lewis’ struggles are hardly unique to Ontario and its new pay floor.
In Richmond, B.C., Salmon’s Transfer, a moving company, is also hitting a wall when trying to attract new hires.
Company president Doug Kellough can’t remember a worse labour shortage in his 56 years in the industry.
“I’ve never seen it develop as it has in the past few years,” he told Global News.
A job ad for four or five part-time hires would attract 20 to 25 applications, with a few candidates taking the initiative of dropping by the office in person, Kellough recalled.
Now he’s lucky if he gets one or two resumes in response to an online ad, he said.
Even finding long-haul drivers, who can expect to make between $75,000 and $100,000 a year, has become difficult, Kellough said.
470,000 unfilled jobs
With unemployment near a 40-year low, job vacancies stood at 470,000 by the end of 2017, up nearly 25 per cent since the beginning of the year.
It’s the most severe labour shortage the country has seen since the onset of the financial crisis, said Dan Kelly, CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).
“It is not at the epidemic level,” he said, but “it certainly has picked up significantly.”
The shortages are widespread across regions and industries, according to the CFIB’s most recent survey of job vacancies among small businesses.
British Columbia has the nation’s tightest labour market, with a vacancy rate of 3.9 per cent, followed closely by Quebec (3.6 per cent) and Ontario (3.2 per cent). But even New Brunswick, Alberta and Manitoba are also reporting increasing rates of unfilled jobs.
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Personal services and construction are the occupational categories with the highest vacancy rate, according to the survey. But the areas where small-business employers are having a hard time finding hires include the restaurant and hospitality industry, the transport industry, the travel and tourism sector, as well as trades related occupations, said Kelly.
Many small firms are saying the inability to hire the help they need has become a cap on business and expansion plans, according to another regular survey conducted by the CFIB, the Business Barometer.
Kellough said he regularly turns away business he knows his company won’t be able to handle.
“We book only what we know we can out there.”
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Wages are rising
With the demand for new hires often outstripping the supply of job candidates, wages are starting to rise faster. Wage growth rose from 2 .6 per cent in the last three months of 2017 to 3.2 per cent in the first three months of 2018 according to Statistics Canada, although recent data also reflects Ontario raising its provincial minimum wage to $14 an hour on Jan. 1 and Alberta lifting its pay floor to $13.60 an hour on October 1, 2017.
Employers competing for workers are also throwing in other sweeteners, like improved benefits and training opportunities, said Kelly.
The scramble to hire is also good news for groups that typically show high unemployment rates such as recent immigrants, Aboriginal people, and the disabled population, he added.
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Still, Kelly says the labour shortage may also be a taste of what’s in store for Canada for the next several decades.
As baby boomers retire, he said, “we should expect some increasing pressure to find workers.”
That dynamic may already be at play in Atlantic Canada, he said, where some regions may be experiencing a tight labour market despite lacklustre growth because of their aging populations.