Labour shortages the main concern at annual Chamber of Commerce membership barbeque

Prince Albert and District Chamber of Commerce members enjoy the Chamber’s annual Member Appreciation Barbeque on Thursday. -- Submitted photo.

Jobs and labour shortages were the main topic of discussion as Prince Albert’s business community met for the annual Prince Albert and District Chamber of Commerce Membership Appreciation Barbeque on Thursday.

While business owners had a chance to enjoy one of the few remaining warm summer days, Chamber CEO Patty Hughes said there are plenty of concerns about the future, and finding employees is the biggest one.

“We’re seeing some great opportunities that are coming to Prince Albert, and with that obviously comes challenges,” Hughes said on Thursday. “One of the challenges that we hear from our membership and the business community is the labour shortage. Today, they were able to connect with other businesses here and talk about that challenge. You heard them say, hey, we need this skillset. Do you know this person…? That’s the other part (of the barbeque), connecting those people and making sure they can try to rectify those challenges that they have.”

Labour shortages are not a new challenge for Saskatchewan businesses. In 2021, provincial statistics showed more than 4,000 job vacancies in sales and service related occupancies alone—a 117 per cent increase from the year before.

Fast forward to 2023 and business owners are still having challenges. In April, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) released a statement saying one in three Saskatchewan small businesses could not find the number of workers they need to operate at their normal level.

The provincial government has responded with incentive programs, like a $4 million program announced in March 2022 for employees hiring job hunters who face barriers in obtaining and maintaining employment. Companies who participated received as much as $6,000 per participant.

Hughes said the Prince Albert chamber plans to keep lobbying the provincial government. The focus will be on training programs, which she said are important for communities like Prince Albert.

“There is a sector of this community that is short on skills,” Hughes said. “Training is important for them, and we do have organizations that do work with those people.”

If Prince Albert businesses can’t find enough employees, Hughes said that could hinder future economic development. She said it will be very difficult for businesses to expand, and put even more pressure on their existing staff.

“That stress load just causes more challenges for them because people will think about looking elsewhere so that they can have that balance and quality of life,” she said.

Despite the serious outlook, Hughes said it was great to have business owners out connecting at the Chamber barbeque.

“It’s just a great time to reach out to our membership, let them know about some of the things we’re working on, (and) connect with them,” she said. “It’s a fun event. Businesses, the owners, generally, there’s a lot of challenges that come their way, so when we can put on something fun like this for them to connect with and network, it really brings value to them.”

Statistics Canada reports that Saskatchewan currently has the third lowest unemployment rate in Canada at 5.1 per cent. That’s an increase of 0.4 per cent from June. The national average for July 2023 was 5.5 per cent.

Prince Albert and the north had the highest unemployment rate out of any region in Saskatchewan at 5.6 per cent. The southeast part of the province, which includes Swift Current and Moose Jaw, had the lowest at 3.4 per cent.