Key tourism industries brace for employee challenges 

Almost a million such jobs will open up over the next ten years, says a recent provincial report

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MIKE CRANE/COURTESY OF TOURISM WHISTLER - LABOUR SHORTAGE An estimated 917,000 jobs will open up in B.C. in the next 10 years, including thousands in crucial tourism sectors like food and retail.
  • PHOTO by Mike Crane/courtesy of Tourism Whistler
  • LABOUR SHORTAGE An estimated 917,000 jobs will open up in B.C. in the next 10 years, including thousands in crucial tourism sectors like food and retail.

An estimated 917,000 jobs will open up in B.C. in the next 10 years. That's according to the 2017 edition of the province's Labour Market Outlook, an annual report that discusses labour trends and breaks down the numbers by sector.

The report has special relevance for Whistler employers, many of whom already struggle with retention: an estimated 77,000 jobs will open up in the retail trade sector, and an estimated 62,000 will open up in the accommodation and food services sectors.

The vacant positions — created largely by retiring baby boomers and a growing economy — will for the most part be filled by millennials, many of whom are landing their first jobs, though there will also be movement from within Canada and abroad to fill the positions.

The openings will create headaches for employers across B.C., but in Whistler, where housing is expensive and out of step with salaries, there could be migraines. According to Melissa Pace, CEO of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, there "doesn't seem to be enough people coming through the ranks to fill those spaces." Whistler businesses will need to ready themselves by investing in training and potentially offering more attractive benefit packages, advised Pace.

She noted B.C.'s Industry Training Authority (ITA) — which offers trades certification in relevant fields, such as for bakers and cooks — as a good resource. "It's an opportunity for businesses in restaurants, hotels and any type of trade to work with ITA and find and support an apprentice," she said.

RDC Fine Homes and Whistler Cooks are already using it to great effect, added Pace. "They've used this program and what they find is when you take on an apprentice, they will generally stay with your business," she said.

Pace also highlighted the Chamber's Whistler Experience program, which is in its fourth year, and offers a suite of training programs to employers and management. So far some 17,000 people have taken one of the courses on offer, said Pace, which train management and front-line workers alike.

An example of a business that is doing a good job creating long-term employees is The Mexican Corner, which, said Pace, provides housing, and "a really well-rounded benefit package for their staff."

Escape Route is also seen as an excellent employer, she said. "They have very little turn over. They've kind of found the magic potion for what works for them," she said.

For Pace, who lived in France for five years, encouraging people to look at service industry and hotel jobs as long-term careers is important. In Europe, people are more likely to look at such jobs as long-term professions. "When you walk into a restaurant and the person has been doing that for 30 years — what an incredible experience that is," she said.

"These people put their lives into these jobs. And I always wondered in North America why we looked at it as more of a student job."

That said, Pace recognized that Whistler remains a seasonal town, especially in terms of its revolving door of residents. "At this point, it's always been that way, and I don't see it changing anytime soon," she said.

The Chamber will be meeting with representatives from Work BC and Whistler Personnel Solutions to develop strategies. Pace's plan is to put together a labour committee by the end of February.

Saad Hasan, chair of the Hotel Association of Whistler, said there is continued demand for front-line staff and managers and that the hotel industry is growing, thanks in large part to increased recreational opportunities around the province.

"You have a whole spectrum of tourism-related initiatives that are coming out," he said.

Hasan said employers are already planning for the future and creating attractive positions that people can look to as careers.

People are looking at tourism and service sectors like other sectors, seeing competitive wages and the good lifestyle they offer, he said. "In the past, people would invariably land in the service sector, now it's not like that," he said.

"It's not something we are looking at in the future and saying what are we going to do about it — we're in the throes of it," he said, noting that most businesses already offer above minimum wage in Whistler.

Universities are also part of the solution offering programs that offer important training for people looking to work in the hotel industry, he said.

In the future, Hasan hopes to see the hotel industry work more closely with First Nations groups, government, and industries to make sure there are enough people to fill the vacant roles.

"We've hit the tip of the iceberg, and I think we can do very well if we work together," he said.

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