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Lifting of B.C. PNP suspensions in large part due to Whistler’s advocacy

Move offers added retention tool for resort employers
B.C. has lifted temporary suspensions on 31 occupations—including jobs in the tourism, hospitality and retail sectors—that had been previously frozen out of the Provincial Nominee Program in the pandemic

Thanks in no small part to Whistler’s advocacy, B.C. has lifted suspensions on dozens of occupations that had been frozen out of the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP), a boon for resort employers that struggled to fill labour shortages in the pandemic. 

Effective Feb. 16, Victoria resumed issuing invitations to apply to the B.C. PNP for 31 occupations—which includes skilled positions in the tourism, hospitality and retail sectors—that had been excluded from the stream since March 30, 2020.

The decision came on the heels of a push from a local group led by the Whistler Chamber of Commerce that compiled data highlighting the program’s importance to the resort’s business community in a letter to B.C.’s jobs ministry. 

“It’s certainly a win for Whistler and shows the strength of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce and [its] ability to advocate for these types of changes that are important to Whistler,” said Joel Chevalier, owner of Culinary Recruitment International, who was part of the team that made the case to the province alongside the chamber and Whistler Immigration.   

“Within two weeks of that, the changes were made. I think it was very influential.” 

Even with the outsized impact COVID-19 has had on visitation, without the usual influx of foreign workers due to travel restrictions, Whistler has had to contend with staffing shortages throughout the pandemic. According to the chamber’s survey data, 68 per cent of Whistler businesses with 50 or more employees reported not having enough staff this summer, and 73 per cent said they felt that foreign worker programs were important to their business’ success. 

“The summer was a bit challenging in that none of us in the HR community realized how busy we would get in July and August, and we certainly were stretched,” said Meredith Bodell, HR manager at the Nita Lake Lodge. ”We staffed up as best we could given what we were anticipating, and we got crushed.” 

Adding to the challenge is that, even with positions unfilled, many workers in the suspended occupations were forced into unemployment for months on end. Bodell cited the example of a lead server who has been at the hotel for more than four years who was forced to go on CERB once his work visa expired.  

“He’s been on the shelf since August because his work permit expired and he’s just been waiting in Creekside, ready to work, ready to pay taxes, but legally we couldn’t have him work until now,” she said. 

Others left the province in search of an easier pathway to immigration, like some of the dozens of Moroccan chefs who had been recruited to the resort with an eye towards eventual permanent residency. 

“We travelled internationally and hired cooks from Morocco with the dream of them becoming permanent residents and invested all that, and that was their primary goal, so once they saw it was locked down here in British Columbia, they were smart and found other alternatives,” explained Bryin Munroe, director of people and culture at the Westin. 

“We invested thinking we were going to have long-term employees and that was cut short.” 

Now, with the suspensions lifted, Chevalier said resort employers have another retention tool at their disposal that is especially valuable for traditionally hard-to-fill positions such as housekeepers and cooks. 

“For every one of those jobs that employers can retain, that’s one less position that they have to find,” he said. 

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