Facing the storm 

Will Whistler weather the looming labour shortage?

By 2006, two people will be leaving their job for every one person coming in. By most reasonable accounts, we’ll be facing a North American shortage of 10 million employees by 2008.

In its Human Resource strategy, the provincial government estimates that there will be 913,000 job openings between 2003 and 2015 in British Columbia alone. Accommodation, food and recreation services will account for 12 per cent of those jobs. B.C.’s tourism sector is on Red Alert, preparing itself for the looming labour shortage.

At a last spring’s 2010 business summit in Vancouver, the province identified that food service and accommodation sectors are expected to experience a deficit of employees described as severe, with a 36 per cent gap in positions and people to fill them. Last week’s announcement that the Squamish campus of Capilano College has been designated a Centre for Leadership and Innovation in Tourism, and Vancouver Community College a Centre for Leadership and Innovation in Hospitatlity, is recognition of the problem.

Whistler businesses, too, are going to need to start forecasting further ahead if they want to stay afloat and meet their staffing needs.

John Sullivan’s famous quote, “If you want loyalty, buy a dog!” could well have been coined by a Whistler employer. The resort has taken advantage of a transitory workforce that other employers in different industries would find extremely difficult. While “front line” staff may be easy to train and replace on an annual basis, what are the implications for supervisors and managers who will be a very hot commodity in the coming years?

It’s a question being asked around the world.

>And the world will be watching us in 2010, when Whistler is hoping to be the epicentre of the global tourism economy. But we need to strategize in order to build on 2010.

In a presentation to The Inter-American Development Bank, Professor Michael E. Porter from The Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness at Harvard Business School identified what makes a workforce globally competitive.

“A globally competitive workforce has the knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours to continually adapt to ever-changing and escalating labour market requirements. Competitive workers have the ability to integrate and apply their academic, technical and practical knowledge and skills to solve real-world problems, to continue learning in formal and informal ways throughout their lifetimes on-the-job, in schools and in their communities, and to work effectively with other people as customers, co-workers and supervisors”

Sounds simple enough; hire talented people, train them thoroughly and continuously, help them prepare for change, and bango-presto you’re ready for the world. The issue for Whistler is how to attract talent and how to retain the those people once we have them.

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