Businesses feel effects of employee shortages

The demand for summertime employees continues to grow as employers feel the strain of the growing economy, without many temporary or full-time workers moving to Golden.

MLA Doug Clovechok facilitated a meeting at the end of June with some key players from Golden’s economy, including Tourism Golden, the Chamber of Commerce, the Town of Golden, the Columbia Shuswap Regional District, the College of the Rockies, and a couple employers.

“He just provided the opportunity for us all to get together. He said he would take forward a lot of the comments and concerns about the growing crisis, because it is growing and will continue to grow,” said Tourism Golden executive director Joanne Sweeting.

There are many challenges that employers in Golden are facing in obtaining and retaining staff throughout the summer months. In June, East Kootenay Employment had 85 jobs posted, and some of those postings included employers who were looking for more than one new staff member.

““Employers are looking for people. They have phoned, and we have minimal people walking into our office,” said East Kootenay Employment employment coach Judy Brook. “People are just scrambling.”

While it may seem like Golden is having a unique program, Brook says her daughter has experienced a similar situation in Nelson, showing that this could be a Rocky Mountain corridor problem.

Another reason for the growing demand for employers can be related to the cancellation of the foreign worker program, which used to bring people in to fill temporary jobs that didn’t require skilled trades or educational training.

“From the employment part of it, I think it has cut back on those jobs,” Brook said, adding that it was possible the program was being misused in other locations, leading to its cancellation.

Many of the employers in Golden have started offering higher wages to entice people, and some have offered contract bonuses, staff shuttles and housing, and gift cards to cover the cost of groceries and every day living.

“There’s a personal lifestyle, people don’t want to housekeep, people don’t want to do those jobs. They have to start increasing that pay, but it’s still not appealing. The problem is if you need 15 housekeepers, and you have five, do you want to be one of the five?” Brook questioned. “Summer is short, so it’s kind of like, I want to be able to go to my friend’s wedding or take a weekend off, so I think people are really hesitant to jump into something.”

Some of the issue could be that people from across Canada are looking to go to the Rocky Mountains, and automatically think of Jasper, Banff, and Lake Louise as the top work and play destinations, Brook speculated. Plus, the tourism season is becoming extended, as people look to travel sooner, increasing the number of months employees are required, making it more difficult for high school and university students to obtain jobs, Sweeting said.

And although there is difficulty trying to recruit external workers to come to Golden for the summer season, most employers have been trying to recruit locally, she added. Some employers, like Bellstar and Kicking Horse Lodging, have become creative in the ways they seek employers.

“We were at a point where, if we couldn’t get some individuals hired, it would be a detriment to the business standpoint,” explained Bellstar vice president of operations and corporate development Robin Cumine. “Fortunately, we have been able to hire some employees. We had to get fairly creative on where and how we pulled some employees in.”

Bellstar ended up hiring a recruitment company that has offices in Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton to help bring employees in.

“I don’t know whether it’s a fact that jobs working at a resort for the summer season just aren’t attractive anymore for today’s younger employees. In the past, we have pulled from a lot of students who are on summer break. We’re just not seeing that right now,” he said.

The company is also working with Mobilize, a program that recruits staff that rotate around to different jobs, creating a constant turnover of employees who are motivated to work in a new place. The hotel has also changed some of its shift scheduling to accommodate different shift rotations, giving employees the opportunity to enjoy more days off grouped together.

“We’re looking at any and every opportunity out there right now. We’re just going to have to start stretching out our scope,” Cumine said. “The thing that seems to work right now is to modify it on this rotation basis. If that’s the new norm then we’re going to try it and see if it works.”

As businesses like Bellstar are getting more creative with the way they employ people, there was still a large support at the meeting to implement and economic development coordinator to help ensure Golden’s business community continues to thrive.

“As Tourism Golden and as the chamber, we can do what we can… But this is an economic development function,” Sweeting said. “If we had a shared economic function, they could focus on this. This is the future of our community.”

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