Employers are resorting to hiring youth out-of-province to help fill their labour needs. Phil McLachlan/The Free PressPhil McLachlan/The Free Press

Employers are resorting to hiring youth out-of-province to help fill their labour needs. Phil McLachlan/The Free PressPhil McLachlan/The Free Press

Youth unemployment in Fernie soars, employers suffering

Employers are resorting to hiring youth out-of-province to help fill their labour needs

Employers are opening doors and cash is on the table but yet, the youth are nowhere to be seen. Because of this, businesses are struggling, but the youth say they have no interest in working.

WorkBC took to the streets in Fernie to talk to youth and ask them; why aren’t you working?

WorkBC Employer Liaison, Brenda Sutherland visited all four high schools and asked them all the same questions, and the results were similar.

Fernie was singled out because surrounding communities such as Sparwood and Elkford have a lower unemployment rate than Fernie.

Just based on the last census, there are currently about 200 youth in Fernie, ages 15 to 19. There are about 225 youth aged 20 to 24.

Sutherland’s report was focused on the high school students ages 15 to 18. She asked them if they were working, if they want to work, and what their reasons were if they don’t.

Out of this age group, at all four local high schools, which accounts for just under 200 youth, 80 per cent were not working and do not have an interest in working. Twenty per cent; 40 out of those 200, are working part time or in a summer position.

“So that leaves 160 of those high school students in this town, not working and not wanting to work,” said Sutherland.

“I would ask them reasons. Okay, well why don’t you want to work? The biggest thing that I got is, they have too many things that they have to do, they have zero interest in working in hospitality, and they’re busy with holidays on the weekend,” she explained.

“So, it’s not about the money. These kids come from pretty high-income range (families),” she continued.

Sutherland further discovered that the 40 that were working were the 15 and 16 year olds.

Topics such as saving for a vehicle or other expensive items were raised by Sutherland. The majority of the answers; they already own that.

Sutherland then encouraged the youth to still work, so that they gain real-work experience and potentially increase the likelihood of entering the college of their choice.

Since Sutherland started these high school survey’s in 2015, she says little has changed.

Those older than 20 were much more likely to work; it’s more the 16 to 19 year olds that are not interested in working.

About 10 employees who want to hire youth in Fernie have received a wage subsidy benefit from the government, and some are quite willing to pay well over and above minimum wage. Even still, they struggled for weeks to fill those positions. Some are still looking.

Employers are resorting to hiring youth out-of-province to help fill their labour needs. One company in town was forced to bring in 11 students from Quebec to work. The employer found them housing, and eventually recruited more from the east.

Lack of housing in Fernie remains a large issue for employers as it currently sits at a three-per-cent vacancy.

VIT is an exchange program between Quebec and other provinces which allows employees to hire groups of students for their seasonal demands. This allows not only the employer to gain workers, but allows the students to explore Canada and learn English.

Housing remains one of the biggest roadblocks in the employee crisis, aside from local youth that refuse to work. In addition, these jobs will continue to be vacant as adults tend to avoid jobs that offer minimum wage.

WorkBC remains a resource for youth to receive help building resumes and cover letters, and finding a job that best suits them. That being said, Sutherland said it’s frustrating that they can’t rely on their youth.

“If you’re taking those 200 students and only 40 of them are working right now, there’s a huge pool of 160 students that could really be of a benefit to this community,” she said.

The Free Press

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