Job shortage persists as Whistler heads into spring 

Number of people on EI jumps; many summer businesses plan to hire less

The global economy may be starting to perk up, but at least in Whistler the job shortage has not gone away yet.

Even with summer around the corner, most local businesses are still prudent with their staffing levels; and the number of jobs posted in town remains slim.

"We are definitely a bit more cautious on how many people we hire," said Mike Zuccolin, general manager of Nicklaus North Golf Course.

"Last year at peak season we had just shy of 100 people. I think right now in all the departments, after hiring, we are at about 85 or 90 people."

Caution is not just limited to the golf courses.

This week Karen Bauckham of Whistler Blackcomb said even though the company is still working out details, they will not likely have as many job openings in the next few months.

"Most of our staff are planning on staying, and so we don't anticipate having to do much summer hiring this year," she said.

Bauckham added the company already plans to have fewer staff for the 2009-2010 winter season.

"Even though we'll be 90 per cent open, we do anticipate having some lower business levels. The way we are going to adjust to that is we are going to be pre-hiring about 500 less people than we normally would," said Bauckham.

Whistler Blackcomb's employment forecast for next winter is being watched carefully by other businesses in town, as they prepare for the Olympic winter.

Meanwhile, the present job shortage is due to a number of factors, including a strange snow year and the global recession.

Whistler Blackcomb recently reported a 15 to 16 per cent drop in skier visits compared to last winter, and Tourism Whistler statistics indicate the resort was down overall about 10 per cent this year.

Because of lower business, Inrtrawest, the company that owns Whistler Blackcomb, started rolling back staff salaries last fall to early 2008 levels, and announced that incentives won't be paid out this year.

"I think businesses are in a similar position to the one we spoke about a couple months ago, in that they are taking a hard look at their cost structure, and they are trying to get through a very tough season," said Fiona Famulak, president of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce.

"As far as staffing goes, they are not hiring temporary staff in the way they have done before. They are spreading the workload around... and they are making due with what they have. If staff are leaving or staff are being let go, those positions are not being filled."

Famulak added that now that the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) has released its transportation plan for the Olympics, businesses can start to plan for next winter season.

The transition from winter business to summer typically creates a number of job openings. But only 31 jobs were posted in Pique Newsmagazine last week, compared to 127 jobs in Pique's April 17, 2008 issue.

The number of people receiving employment insurance (EI) also jumped this year. In January, 150 people living in Whistler received EI cheques, compared to 110 in 2008.  And in Squamish, 380 people received EI, up from the 220 the same month last year.

But the job shortage is not limited to the Sea to Sky corridor, and earlier this month Statistics Canada announced unemployment in the Canadian workforce is at a seven year high. The current unemployment rate in the Lower Mainland-Southwest of B.C. - which includes Whistler - is 6.6 per cent.

Zuccolin said the large number of people looking for work in the area was apparent at Nicklaus North's job fair at the end of March. Close to 400 people showed up to the fair, compared to only 160 people last year, he said.

"We were overwhelmed with the number of people we had... It was comparable to back in the early 2000s," he said.

"There were fantastic candidates that came through the door and fantastic people we were not able to hire."

Alan Kristmanson of the Whistler Golf Club said his golf course also had a large number of people show up at their job fair this year.

"There is definitely more people looking for work in town. There is absolutely no question about that," said Kristmanson.

"We have gone from having a hard time finding staff to having a lot of outstanding people looking for work."

However, Kristmanson said Whistler Golf Course plans to hire a similar number of staff this summer, despite the recession.

"I don't like talking about doom and gloom and what may or may not happen," he said. "If we manager our business properly, we think we'll be busy, and we'll have lots of work for the staff that we hired."

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