The story is the same. I ask businesses what poses their biggest challenge. And across the west, ‘finding staff’ is the response almost every time.
Recently a business operator told me of his frustration because they were compromising the quality of housekeeping in a property known for high standards, because it was not possible to find detail-oriented staff. Furthermore, increasing pay rates had not proven to be helpful or even relevant. The employer was not receiving any applications or responses to postings, thus the business did not even have the opportunity to hire or retain staff. Communicating these real experiences to government is challenging as the reality of seasonal and rural businesses is often lost in provincial or national statistics that get averaged and blended.
A recent survey of 52 businesses by the Fernie Chamber of Commerce has helped to quantify specific small town experience and articulates what many ski areas and tourism organisations are enduring. The results show 60% of surveyed businesses have unfilled positions, and 69% are not getting applications. Banff and Whistler have also done admirable work on comprehensive economic impact analysis to effectively convey to government the negative effects of labour shortages.
Rate of pay is frequently used as a justification for few applications. But the Fernie survey, and many other examples across the west demonstrate that there is a shortage of positions with all pay grades.
Limited accommodation is a significant challenge, especially for ski areas in rural locations. As others have done in recent years, Sasquatch (former Hemlock Valley) and Big White are in the process of building more staff accommodation this summer to help address this issue. Staff accommodation shortages have been exacerbated by the increased amount of lodging used as inventory for private on-line lodging rentals rather than it being available for staff. CWSAA has requested that government treat these sorts of properties like hotels to mitigate the unfair tax advantages that VRBO properties currently utilise. If placed on an equal playing field, more units may be available for staff lodging rather than nightly rental.
In many destinations, services are being reduced and business hours are being shortened in order to cope. This represents immediate lost profit, employment, and government tax revenue, and also has negative longer term impacts for the destination’s reputation. These messages continue to be on the forefront of CWSAA advocacy to government, but they require equal push at the local level to MP and MLA representatives.
The solutions to the staffing issue in our industry are multiple. One small remedy and reminder to ski areas is to post your positions on the Canada West website job board. This section of the website is viewed heavily this time of year and receives the most traffic on the site.