Middle-aged islanders face employment challenges here

September 19, 2016

When I lived on Salt Spring Island, it was difficult for a large number of the 10,000 people who populates the island to get work and seldom did anyone get a really, good paying full time job.

Nothing has changed around this issue as far as I know.

For me, in the end it came down to whether I wanted to mostly stay on the island or travel to my heart’s desire. I opted for the latter.

Not that Salt Spring Island is a bad place to spend almost all your time on. I often tell people that even when I had absolutely no money I felt I had abundance. This was because every day I could go for a walk on a trail in the temperate rain forest among the giant west coast trees. In my will, I mention that it is on that Mouat Park trail where I want my ashes scattered when I die.

But I am an excitement junkie and charting new territory for myself is a definite passion of mine.

Too bad that Salt Spring never provided me with enough of an income so that I could do both. I really tried. I hung on there for 16 years.

The following article includes stories by people who will do an awful lot to remain on the most populated gulf island on Canada’s west coast:

Gulf Islands Driftwood

May 9, 2007

Middle-aged islanders face employment challenges here

by Tanya Lester

Making a living on Salt Spring Island where employment is driven by only two industrial sectors can be challenging regardless of age, but has specific problems for the middle-aged and older.

According to Penn George at Beacon Community Services Employment Centre (BCSEC), the tourism and construction-based job market here frequently does not make room for older workers.

“Skills often don’t match the entry-level and service oriented positions that often come up as job vacancies,” she said. “Many older workers appear over-qualified for these jobs as they have years of highly educated specific work skills. Some even ‘downgrade’ their skills to suit the lower skill set on a job posting. There are fewer and  less varied high paying jobs that reflect their skills.”

George said these challenges are linked with other island problems facing workers of all ages: lack of affordable rental and ownership housing, a high number of seasonal jobs, lack of public transportation; and roads not designed to safely include bikers and walkers.

Jacqueline Menard is only one of many islanders familiar with these challenges. She moved here last fall from Vancouver after years of visiting Salt Spring.

Well qualified with a Bachelor of Education degree, teaching experience and computer skills, Menard is also bilingual and creates unique photography collages. Still, she is aware of the lack of variety of job opportunities here as compared to Vancouver.

Menard finds public institutions here lacking in employment opportunities. Unlike in cities and towns elsewhere, places like ArtSpring and Mary Hawkins library are run mostly by volunteers. While ArtSpring has increased its paid staff over the years and the library now has a part-time paid librarian, Menard hopes this trend with continue.

“I hope there will be more work opportunities as well as the bigger library structure,” said Menard in reference to CRD-supported plans to build a new library.

Menard is currently working as a part-time French immersion teacher but still needs to acquire more work to securely cover her living expenses.

“The challenge of finding work is the same as in the 1970s here, but what’s changed is the price of housing,” she said.

Fourteen years ago, Andrea Rankin left Vancouver where she worked in the acting and language interpretation fields to follow her dream of living on Salt Spring Island. Although she has worked as an interpreter at Ganges provincial court, these services are rarely needed here.

Instead, she fell back on waiting tables, something she had not done for many years. Rankin eventually taught French here and also continues to do house cleaning. But going back to the larger Canadian economy outside of this island has been the key to her financial security.

Travelling several days each month, Rankin works as a court interpreter in places like Duncan, Victoria, Vancouver, Prince George and Whitehorse. By doing this, she can couple her passion for languages with her love of travelling.

Rankin points out that going off island five days a week, like many commuters here do, would get tiring, but being a few days in the city each week is fine. At the end of those days, she looks forward to coming back to her house near St. Mary Lake.

An islander who travelled to a full-time job in Victoria for several years and asked to remain anonymous due to the personal nature of her comments, agrees that taking the 6:20 a.m. Fulford ferry five days a week left her “sick and tired all the time.”

Often she would get out of bed minutes before leaving her home at 5:30 a.m. Being a single parent, she drove “half way up the island” to drop her daughter at a babysitter’s before racing to the ferry. If she did not have time to park her vehicle and walk on, she had the added expense of driving onto the ferry.

Once on, she joined ” a hard core group of 35 to 50″ islanders who have commuted to work for many years. If she showered before leaving home, she would use the hand dryer in the washroom to dry her hair. Often she stuffed her office clothes into her jacket pockets and would change into them in the washroom.

Eventually, she persuaded her employer to allow her to work in her Salt Spring home for two or three days each week. The only way she could earn the same money as her Victoria job (and meet her monthly mortgage payments as well as help her daughter through university) is if more government jobs existed on Salt Spring or by being self-employed and catering to the tourism industry.

Penn of BCSEC reminds potential island employers that older workers have developed many skills over the years in areas, including wisdom, interpersonal communication, supervising and time management. They often have fewer demands if their children have left home; and they know themselves and their limitations.


Tanya’s other posts on this blog can be read at tealeaf56.wordpress.com and writingsmall.wordpress.com

She is also a psychic, specializing in tea leaf reading and tarot, a house sitter and a reiki master. Her web site is at teareading.wordpress.com   and she has pages on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google. Her email address is tealeaf.56@gmail.com and her cell phone number is 250-538-0086.






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