A recent article on Monster.ca talks of a labor shortage that is affecting Canada, Mexico and Japan. Top of the list? Sales and customer service representatives.

Do we have a shortage of people skilled in these positions? I don’t think so, since the keys to customer service and sales are the same – being nice to the customer. That is a skill that anybody can posses and develop quite easily. I think that the problem is more likely caused by the fact that most customer service and sales positions pay a wage that is to low to survive on.

Consider this: the average one bedroom apartment in Ottawa rents for about $700 a month. Most people working minimum wage earn about that a month after they get the taxes EI and CPP deducted, assuming they are getting near full-time hours. Most customer service positions don’t actually give a solid 40 hour work week, and the scheduling is generally unstable which makes it difficult to balance two such jobs to make up the income.

If your entire paycheck every month is just enough to cover your rent, how are you supposed to eat or pay utilities, let alone have any sort of quality of life? Attracting skilled workers to the country might help in the traditional trades, where the skilled workers just aren’t here, but it won’t help in customer service. An underpaid worker is an underpaid worker – no matter where they came from.

Maybe the government should look into a way to give companies incentive to pay their customer service staff more, provide benefits and keep their employees above the poverty line. I think the workers are there, they’re just treated poorly and move on.