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Work in Victoria: Part One - The Market

First the good news. Most of the people I have met over the years who have been looking for work in Victoria have found it. Now the bad news. It wasn't as easy as they thought and they seldom got the job they expected to.

This is still a small town. Population: about 300,000. Number of businesses: about 17,000. To make matters worse, the employment paradigms are only now beginning to change. Most employers in Victoria don't yet appreciate the shift from the industrial age to the information age, and the impact that shift has had on the demand for employees. These days almost everyone must be computer literate or have a specific computer skill. Due to the inability or reluctance of the employers to see this shift, they still expect to pay about two-thirds the pay rates an employee can get in other Canadian cities, and about half of what you would get in the US. The second shift they do not recognize is the demographic shift. Most employers in Victoria grew up when there were a lot more people in the labor market and qualification requirements were much lower.

There are a few reasons why these paradigms are slow to change here. Firstly, everything is slow to change here! Somehow the fact that we live on an island provides a buffer that slows down the impact of the changes the 'outside' world experiences. Maybe an economist or a statistician could more readily explain why change is slow here. The net effect, though, is that we are about five years behind in terms of real economic changes in general. Often by the time changes do arrive they have lost their power, rather like a giant wave that dissipates by the time it hits the shore.

Secondly, for a century Victoria was a small English colonial town with a small town's conservative values. As a result most people here are still more bookish, less outgoing (on top of the fact that we are already Canadian!), slower to make new friends, and more reluctant to embrace change. Have you seen the movie 'Pleasantville'? Having lived here most of my life, I can tell you that the last twenty years have been rather similar to the process detailed in that fictional town.

Thirdly, of the top ten largest employers in Victoria, nine of them are some form of government. Most of the employees are union members. Neither of these cultures are what you would call 'dynamic'.

Another reason wages are behind the times here is that for many years employers were able to trade 'quality of life' for real dollars. Lets use another movie example: 'Anne Of Green Gables'. I can tell you without a moment's hesitation that scenes from around Victoria are just as beautiful as the scenes from that film. The town is quaint and life is not crowded. There are many small village neighborhoods. The climate is mild, the land is rolling coastal hills, there are plenty of lakes and rivers and beaches and parks. There is green space everywhere. I live in a house on a busy urban intersection five minutes from town. From my living room window I can see only one house. The others are there, but I can't see them behind the trees.

The net result is a lot of 'settlers'; people who settle work for which they are overqualified and underpaid. They are not thrilled with their jobs, but they have decided they love it here and will stay.

Many people do move here knowing full well what the employment situation is. Since I know what they faced deciding to move here or to stay, I always look forward to finding out the reason they came. There are a lot of interesting people here.

Next week: Where are the jobs and how do you find them?

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