The CRD’s information on employers in the transportation sector features only the area’s two biggest – BC Ferries (with approximately 1,300 employees) and BC Transit (with approximately 880). But of course there are many other transportation-oriented businesses from airlines (including ‘specialty’ companies like Harbour Air and HeliJet), trucking companies and taxi firms. And although they might also be included in other categories there are also a significant number of people employed in Victoria by companies such as Canada Post, UPS, DHL and Purolator which you could argue are in the transportation business although they move around goods rather than people.
Obviously the largest (numerically) employer in the transportation sector, BC Ferries, wouldn’t exist if Victoria’s geography and history were not as they are. If you are not aware, Victoria is the capital city of British Columbia making it a natural hub in terms of government and some (but definitely not all) business sectors. What makes Victoria unique is that it is located on Vancouver Island which is separated by some 44km of ocean from the provincial mainland. For over 50 years (since 1960 to be precise) BC Ferries has been taking people, their cars and of course a multitude of goods ranging from groceries to gasoline from the mainland to various ports – but mainly Victoria (Swartz Bay) and more recently Nanaimo (Duke Point).
The transportation sector offers a wide variety of jobs and rather paradoxically the region’s biggest two employers peak and slump at different times throughout the year. Although in its early days resource industries (logging, fishing and to a much lesser extent mining) were at the top of the heap in Victoria and on Vancouver Island today tourism, education and high-tech are much more important to the economy.
As you might expect the first in this list – tourism – reaches its height during the months of June through August when the weather is good and kids all across North America (and in other parts of the world) are off school. Thus BC Ferries increases its daily sailings and hires seasonal staff during this time. Meanwhile BC Transit, which through the Upass system provides transit passes to the almost 30,000 students of the University of Victoria and Camosun College, scales back its service for the summer.
Other transportation sector industries – like cab companies, airlines and private bus firms – also increase their service levels in the summer. Not only do tourists arrive via BC Ferries and various airlines but the city sees upwards of 200 cruise ships dockingeach year at Ogden Point – mostly in the May-August period – which brings over 400,000 visitors into the city and surrounding area. These folks are mostly transported by private bus company vehicles into the downtown core for sightseeing or out onto the peninsula to go to Butchart Gardens.
The BC Economy Guide says that “Not surprisingly, trades & transportation equipment operators account for the lion’s share of the workforce in this industry, with 57% employed in this occupational group. Many are truck drivers (they make up 18% of total employment in transportation & warehousing), but other common occupations include delivery, bus & taxi drivers, material handlers, taxi drivers, longshore workers, aircraft ramp attendants, and aircraft & vehicle mechanics.”
About another quarter of those employed in this sector (which includes ‘warehousing’ in the BC Economy Guide) are in “business, financial & administrative occupations. These are mainly letter carriers, postal clerks, couriers & messengers, shippers & receivers, and dispatchers”. The remainder is made up of those in managerial positions (~4%), natural and applied science jobs (~8% – like “deck officers on vessels”) and sales and service (~7% – like ticket agents or flight attendants).
Obviously there is a lot of scope in these job categories from those with entry-level skills – which would suit those working in sales and service or administrative positions – to those with advanced qualifications – like airplane pilots, vessel captains and air-traffic controllers. As expected wages are at the lower end for many of these service jobs, especially since they are rarely union jobs and are also seasonal while salaries can be very good for those at the upper levels whose members are usually unionized. For example, pilots that guide cargo ships into and out of port make upwards of $300,000 annually.
I don’t know if this statistic from the BC Economy Guide holds true in Victoria but in the province as a whole “Three out of four (77%) workers in transportation & warehousing are male”. Although Vancouver is by far the largest center for workers in this sector about 15% of those employed in transportation and warehousing work on Vancouver Island and its nearby coastal area. The seasonality of many of the Victoria jobs in this sector is actually helpful for those who may be attending university and looking for work during their summer vacations.
The outlook for the sector is said to be fairly good for the next five years with the share of GDP forecast to drop slightly while employment within the sector should grow a little bit ahead of the average. Bottom line is that this sector offers good job opportunities, although far from spectacular wages, to those just getting their feet wet in the labour market.
Young people (or those more mature) can do well if they’ve got ‘the hustle’ that might set them apart from their colleagues working in the service or administrative subsections of the transportation sector. In positions requiring more advanced skills and experience there is money to be made but these jobs can be hard to secure due to intense competition.
Here are links to job listings at some of the companies in this sector:
- BC Ferries
- BC Transit
- Harbour Air
- Air Canada (not specific to Victoria)
- Greater Victoria Harbour Authority
Next week I’ll focus in on one of the companies within the transportation sector in Victoria.