The Chamber of Commerce's employee survey was released this week, and it offers what is likely the most comprehensive overview of Whistler's workforce in resort history.
Spanning between March and late June, the Working in Whistler Survey garnered 1,263 responses, and is intended to help the chamber spearhead a resort-wide employee recruitment and retention strategy. Questions focused primarily on the workplace and employee satisfaction.
"Before you can even get into strategic planning, you need good data," said chamber CEO Val Litwin. "So this survey is about good data, and gathering that crucial intel so we can clarify what those next steps are to attract and retain more people in town."
The survey can tell us a few basic things about the makeup of Whistler's labour pool: firstly, it's a young workforce, with 69 per cent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 34.
The food and beverage (25 per cent), accommodation (21 per cent) and activity/recreation (15 per cent) sectors employ the bulk of the resort's workers.
The results also reiterated the high turnover in Whistler's workforce, with 71 per cent of respondents reporting they spent two years or less in their current position despite two-thirds of those surveyed saying they are permanent residents of Whistler.
The more useful information came in the section focused on employee satisfaction. Unsurprisingly, housing and cost of living remained top of mind for many, with 69 per cent pointing to affordable housing and 47 per cent naming increased wages as the top ways to better retain staff.
"It's no surprise really that housing and wages have come out on top," said Whistler Blackcomb (WB) VP of employee experience Joel Chevalier, who served on the report's committee. WB will house 31 per cent of its workforce in staff housing this coming winter, up from 27 per cent in 2013. "That being said, I think that Whistler is in a unique position to be able to tackle these issues more aggressively than other communities."
Ru Mehta, owner of Samurai Sushi, which subsidizes rent for a portion of its staff, said the housing issue is one that businesses as well as the entire community need to take a hard look at.
"I don't have a solution, but the community has to start looking at housing as part of infrastructure. We need plumbing, we need electricity, we need a police force and we need affordable housing," he said. "We need to have some kind of change."
On the affordability side of the coin, three-quarters of employees surveyed said they make above $15 an hour and 37 per cent of respondents feel their wages aren't enough to cover their daily needs.
Litwin said it's important to note each person has their own idea of what constitutes a "daily need," but the figure does reiterate the need for businesses to get creative when considering ways to subsidize employees' living costs.
"Pay is important but it's not the most important thing for retaining employees," said Sue Adams, former owner of The Grocery Store and community member at large on the Working in Whistler committee. "It's about work-life balance in this corridor. If you feel that you're paid fairly and have flexibility in your work hours, then that is huge."
Employees identified "decent wages," "access to affordable housing" and "flexible work hours" as the top three factors driving quality of life in Whistler.
Meanwhile, extended health benefits, a Spirit Pass paid in full by their employer, and performance bonuses were named the top desired benefits among workers.
The workforce was nearly unanimous on one point, with 97 per cent saying they care about the quality of their work culture — an aspect of the job Mehta feels is often overlooked by employers hampered by staff shortages.
"Ultimately, Whistler is supposed to be a fun place to be, and that's why people come," he said. "Business in Whistler has been going up by 10, 15 per cent every year for the last three years, and that's awesome, obviously, but it's not sustainable if we can't get more workforce and a happier workforce."
Now, with the data in hand confirming much of what we already knew about Whistler's labour force, the chamber has recommended several actions moving ahead: working with partners to further the resort's recruitment and retention strategy; commissioning a third-party housing study; and working with the business community to maximize opportunities by, for example, leveraging training to attract staff and recruiting more First Nations into the workforce.
To view the full survey results, visit www.whistlerchamber.com/working-in-whistler-survey.
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