Skilled worker shortage felt across B.C.

October 12, 2017

By Randy Shore, Vancouver Sun |

A shortage of mechanics has resulted in cancelled runs on West Vancouver’s Blue Bus, which is struggling to keep aging buses road-worthy.

The scarcity of qualified workers is being felt across the province, according to Cordell Draayers, secretary-treasurer of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

“Absolutely, we have companies that have postings unfilled because there are no people to fill them,” he said. “Prince George and the centres need qualified people, Sparwood needs people in mines, Cranbrook needs heavy-duty and truck mechanics as well as the Lower Mainland.”

West Vancouver would not provide a spokesperson for Postmedia News, but the district’s director of engineering and transportation Ray Fung told the North Shore News recently that mechanical issues exacerbated by a shortage of mechanics have led to cancelled runs.

“It doesn’t happen on a daily basis,” he said. “Some days can be worse than others.”

There are currently eight Blue Buses that date back to 1999, and one that is 20 years old.

The high cost of living on the North Shore makes it difficult to attract qualified mechanics, he said. That means when buses break down, sometimes they have to be taken out of service and the run must be cancelled.

“Most of these type of employees do not live on the North Shore and they prefer not to commute,” Fung said.

A mechanic’s position currently advertised by West Vancouver Blue Bus pays $36 per hour, or 70 per cent of that for an apprentice. The position has been unfilled since July.

“If a heavy mechanic gets paid $40 an hour in Metro Vancouver and $40 an hour someplace affordable, that’s pretty simple math — you go where you can buy a house,” said Draayers.

Higher wages and relatively affordable accommodation costs is luring skilled workers such as mechanics, electricians and other technicians to B.C.’s north.

Instrument mechanic Ian King spent several years pursuing a career in journalism at small publications and freelancing for 24 Hours before making a move to skilled trades.

“The most I ever earned was $36,000 working in journalism,” he said. “This year, I should crack six figures. Even though real estate isn’t cheap, it makes a lot more sense with the money you make.”

King and his wife Karla recently purchased a four-bedroom home in Taylor near Fort St. John for a little over $300,000.

“A big part of the problem is that wages are stagnant in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island,” he explained. “I have a colleague, an electrician, who was making $24 an hour in Victoria who makes twice that here and probably three times when you include overtime.”

Heavy mechanics working in the Peace region make up to $45 an hour with full benefits and often retention bonuses.

“When these companies want to get something done, they don’t think much about offering four hours of overtime,” he said.

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