Employers worried workers will stay away 

Employment centre job board full for weeks, annual job fairs on now

North America’s #1 ski resort might be a popular destination for skiers but employers are worried enough workers won’t show up this year.

"Early indications are that there is not a lot of people to chose from," said long-time local businessman Dave Davenport.

"We are not optimistic that there will be a great number of employees to draw upon. Most employers are getting ready to ramp up and that ramping up will be pretty substantial so there is going to be pretty high demand for fewer people."

In July a report by go2, a B.C. tourism industry association, found that more than 40 per cent of provincial tourism operators were having trouble finding qualified employees.

Davenport said the shortage of experienced workers and the tough economic times faced by the tourism sector have made most businesses run lean on staff, only hiring more people on a seasonal basis.

"I think because of the challenges of the last two or three years and particularly this last season and this summer what you are finding is many employers are running leaner and running more seasonally," he said.

"It is much like the way we did it when I first came here 15 years ago where we would not take on as many people and not carry people as long. What that does is put more pressure on every employer to ramp up to go through the winter."

His fear is that workers will shift in and out of the resort, as used to happen a decade ago, and that will affect the community.

"We are not making the commitment to them so therefore it is harder for them to commit to us, so it is a self fulfilling prophecy when we do that," he said.

The Whistler-Blackcomb annual recruiting fair is on now. At least one hotel has already had a job fair and another, The Westin Resort and Spa will host its Nov. 4 and 5. The Whistler Chamber of Commerce will hold its fair Nov. 6 and 7.

The Chamber’s employment centre is busy every day said president Bernie Lalor Morton.

"There are some eager people coming in anxious for work so they are definitely coming," she said.

The job posting board at the employment centre has been full for months.

Lalor Morton said the trend has been for employers to hire later.

"For the last couple of years they have been hiring later and putting it off until they absolutely have too," she said.

"I think they are definitely gearing up for a great season but businesses will definitely be watchful of the numbers and how their labour costs are affecting the bottom line."

But with service top of mind for most employers Lalor Morton sees a good winter of opportunities ahead for employees.

Whistler-Blackcomb spent an extra $20,000 this year advertising employment opportunities for the season.

"We were certainly concerned about the number of applicants that might come and so what we did was step up our advertising," said Karen Bauckham, the company’s recruiting manager.

Recruiters went to the Toronto Ski Show earlier this year and ads were placed on major Internet recruiting companies like Workopolis. Whistler-Blackcomb will hire about 1,000 people and take on 250 volunteers. Most jobs pay between $9 and $13 an hour.

Bauckham said over 1,300 have already booked interviews. However, walk-in traffic is down from previous years.

"The walk-in traffic is slower than what we had expected," said Bauckham. "But the quality of people is better."

Whistler-Blackcomb will open fully staffed on Nov. 24 but interview opportunities will continue after the job fair is over, said Bauckham, to help the company offset any attrition that may occur during the winter.

"I was told to get in as early as you can," said Trina Butler, as she waited for an interview with Whistler-Blackcomb. She moved to Whistler from Ottawa in August to get in on the ground floor of employment opportunities.

The good news is with fewer people flocking to town housing is easier to find at the moment and rents have come down in the last year.

However, Whistler Community Services Society is still concerned that young people will find themselves penniless, jobless and homeless, before the winter season sets in. Last year some job-seekers had to sleep rough in stairwells and in the woods.

This year, said Janet McDonald, executive director of the WCSS, a bed and breakfast has been rented by the organization for all of October and November to help people in need.

"There will be very strict house rules and people must seriously be looking for a job," said McDonald. "But we felt we must do something to help them get on their feet."

Several people are already using the service as they seek work.

To find out more about call WCSS at 604-932-0113.

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