A new program is helping connect Whistler employers with desperately needed frontline staff.
The Jobs First program, launched by Joel Chevalier of Culinary Recruitment International in partnership with SWAP Canada’s Libby Law, has helped connect 141 workers with employers in the resort so far.
Most are coming from Germany, Chevalier said, but the program has also sourced workers from New Zealand, Chile and the United Kingdom.
“Our original plan was that we thought we might be able to place 50 people, and have enough applicants to do that, and we’re exceeding 180 [applicants],” Chevalier said.
“So we’ve already got a lot of requests from employers and applicants to do something for the spring and summer of 2022.”
At the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government issued a new requirement for working holiday visa holders to have a job offer in place before arriving in Canada, which the Jobs First program helps them secure.
That requirement was lifted Sept. 6, “but that still doesn’t mean that there’s going to be a big flood of applicants that are coming through,” Chevalier said.
“And so this program has really filled a need for a lot of the employers who need to have a guarantee that people are actually going to show up.”
To ensure good outcomes for workers, Chevalier said the program is only working with known employers who are providing staff housing.
“The employers that we do work with already have wage structures, so we know that people are coming into jobs that are good jobs,” he said, adding that most of the jobs are in housekeeping or dishwashing.
Once arriving in Canada, workers are granted a one-year working holiday visa permit and are free to explore their options if they choose.
“I talk to the employers about this, that it is my job to go and get you applicants, and it’s your job to keep them happy and keep them with you,” Chevalier said, adding that with Canada’s current labour shortage, many employers are seeing the importance of employment programs.
“And employers are certainly stepping up and doing more creative things to keep people, which is pretty cool.”
So far the program has found workers for 17 different local businesses (as well as a small handful in Banff, Jasper, and elsewhere), including several hotels and restaurants.
“Certainly this program has been very helpful getting quite a few students from Germany and elsewhere, so yes, it’s been a great help,” said Saad Hasan, chair of the Hotel Association of Whistler.
“All through our resort, I think it will be a great help, for not just hotels but also other businesses as well, because I see that Joel is also sharing staff with other restaurants.”
Local restaurant Hunter Gather has been able to add five new hires through the program, all expected to land in the resort in the fall, said Alistair Cray, general manager of parent company Whistler Cooks.
“The key piece is these are normally hires that [are] frontline junior staff that normally come in with a low skillset that we’re able to train and mould to our business, and so yes, for us it fills a gap that would have been there,” Cray said.
With that in mind, the skilled labour gap is going to be harder to address, he added.
“We continue to be proactive, we continue to train … This isn’t a new challenge for the town; it’s something that we’ve all been working with for many years, and we’ll continue to look for creative solutions,” he said.
“I think in terms of light at the end of the tunnel, there’s no end point. It’s an evolution isn’t it? And the business will evolve to match our capacity and our ability to produce great events, great food, great service, and so we have to keep doing that.”
For its part, the Whistler Chamber of Commerce has collaborated with Tourism Whistler (TW) on a recruitment video that is set to launch shortly, said CEO Melissa Pace, and other initiatives are in the works as well.
“We’re working collaboratively with TW on a few pieces,” she said. “Stay tuned.”