Whistler prepares for long-term labour crunch 

Employers all looking in the same shrinking labour pool

It used to be at Wild Willies Ski Shop there was a set schedule of hours and a specific job description for employees.

That was when employees flocked to Whistler and workers were a dime a dozen.

Now Wild Willies owner Bill Lamond has to make a new work schedule every week to accommodate his employees. He tries to be more flexible with hours and moves workers among his three store locations to fill in the gaps in staffing.

He had just enough employees this winter to make it through the busy ski season but he admits it was touch and go at first. These days he finds himself working more, not less, to make up for staffing shortfalls.

"Every year we take on one more job ourselves," he said. "And that would be nice if that trend could stop."

That trend, by all accounts, looks like it’s only going to get worse.

The employment growth rate in the region for tourism related jobs is expected to grow between two and two and a half per cent on an annual basis, according to draft figures presented to go2, B.C.’s tourism industry human resources association, this week.

Go2 commissioned the tourism labour study in the Sea to Sky corridor in December 2005. The draft report was presented this week.

"It’s good to know because up until this report we didn’t really have a handle on what was happening in the region," said John Leschyson, director industry human resource development with go2.

But the gap created by the growing job market is increasingly exacerbated by the rapidly shrinking labour pool.

The labour market is being affected by a variety of factors.

The baby boomer population is aging, with more people retiring than are able to fill their jobs. The Canadian economy is booming with unemployment levels lower than they have been in more than 30 years. And young mobile workers are being rapidly enticed to high-paying jobs, unbeatable benefit packages, and over-the-top signing bonues in Alberta’s oil sands.

In the last quarter of 2005, 17,000 Canadians moved to Alberta from other provinces.

While the lack of good employees is a familiar refrain in Whistler come shoulder season, for the first time ever employers are concerned with more than just the natural ebb and flow of workers in a resort town.

"If there’s one thing I wake up thinking about and go to bed thinking about, it’s recruiting," said Whistler-Blackcomb’s Kirby Brown.

Labour shortages have been on Whistler-Blackcomb’s radar screen for the past six years but it wasn’t until last year that the reality of the problem really set in.


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