People First HR Services

Bottom-of-barrel salaries in city may repel talent

People First

Winnipeggers earn the lowest salaries among residents of Canada’s largest cities — and this poor compensation may be keeping workers away.

In 2009, the average Winnipeg salary was $38,050, according to Conference Board of Canada data. The same year, workers in 12 other Canadian cities the board surveyed earned higher salaries, with Alberta leading the way.

In Calgary, the average wage was $60,520 in 2009 and in Edmonton, it was $54,370. But workers outside of the oilpatch also earned more than Winnipeggers, creating a gap that may hamper this city’s
economic growth.

“This is a significant issue when trying to retain or attract employees,” City of Winnipeg economist Georges Chartier wrote in Our Changing City, an April 2010 presentation obtained by the Free Press through access to information legislation. “Until the gap closes, Winnipeg’s labour shortages will likely continue.”

Conventional wisdom has held that Winnipeg’s relatively low cost of living will allow the Manitoba capital to attract and retain workers. But this thinking went out the window during the mid-2000s oil boom, when a variety of Winnipeg industries found it difficult to hire or retain skilled workers and professionals.

Although the boom in Alberta is over, some shortages remain in health care, construction and other trades. However, the benefits of living in Winnipeg — less congested streets, lower housing costs and a generally less hectic lifestyle — may balance out lower salaries, at least for certain types of workers.

Executives, for example, tend to look at more than just wages, said Colleen Coates, a compensation expert for Winnipeg-based People First HR Services.

“When I’m a CEO and I’m thinking of relocating, I’m taking in every aspect of the job,” she said. “Regardless of which city you’re in, every city has its challenges.”

The City of Winnipeg itself has experienced even greater human-resources challenges. In 2008, the city auditor warned the city is in danger of failing to be able to deliver services due to a combination of mass retirements at a senior level and the inability to hire and retain professionals, senior managers and skilled tradespeople.

Low wages seem to be part of the problem with the city’s workforce. According to economist Chartier’s presentation, the average salary for a City of Winnipeg employee in 2008 was the lowest among eight surveyed Canadian cities.

City workers earned an average of $66,800 that year, compared to an average wage of $84,500 in Toronto, the top-paying city in the survey.

The City of Winnipeg employed approximately 8,200 people that year, or 12.2 workers per 1,000 citizens. Among surveyed cities, only Hamilton employed fewer people per capita — 10.6 per 1,000 citizens.

The numbers

Average employee salaries in 13 Canadian cities in 2009:

Calgary: $60,520
Edmonton: $54,370
Ottawa: $47,030
Toronto: $46,660
Hamilton: $43,590
Vancouver: $41,440
Regina: $40,710
Victoria: $39,550
Quebec City: $39,260
Saskatoon: $39,210
Montreal: $38,240
Halifax: $38,170
Winnipeg: $38,050

Average salaries for city workers in eight Canadian cities in 2008:

Toronto: $84,500
Calgary: $83,200
Hamilton: $81,600
Edmonton: $78,800
Ottawa: $76,200
Regina: $74,000
Saskatoon: $67,200
Winnipeg: $66,800
Source: Our Changing City