Labour shortage will get worse 

Regional human resources plan expected in the fall

By Bob Barnett

Labour shortages already being felt by the tourism industry in the Sea to Sky corridor are going to get worse in the next decade.

A report released June 1 by go2, the B.C. tourism industry’s human resources association, found that tourism operators in the region need to attract an average of 3,500 workers every year from outside the Sea to Sky corridor. And while this labour gap has traditionally been bridged by recruiting workers from elsewhere that will become increasingly difficult due to increased pressure from other industries, an aging demographic and the high cost of living in the region.

“There is an annual shortfall of workers for the tourism sector in Whistler and during the height of the winter season, the shortfall for workers will be even higher. With the overall tightening of the labour market, we clearly need to address this issue now,” said John Leschyson, go2’s Director of Industry Human Resource Development.

“The situation in terms of attracting temporary, or even permanent workers from elsewhere in Canada will not get better,” said Kirby Brown, director of Experience Development and Delivery for Whistler-Blackcomb and a member of the steering committee that commissioned the study. “The 2010 Olympic Games may attract young workers because of the appeal of working and being part of the Olympic experience. After that time the situation will revert to the underlying issues of a reducing youth population and hence a reduced available workforce across Canada and other countries, which have historically been a source of workers. This will result in increasing problems in attracting workers to Whistler,” said Brown.

The study was conducted as part of a project to develop a long-term, comprehensive human resources strategy to support tourism growth to 2015 in the region. The project, the Sea to Sky Tourism HR Strategy, was coordinated by a steering committee comprised of local business leaders, chambers of commerce, Tourism Whistler, tourism operators, representatives from all municipalities, the Squamish and Lil’wat nations, go2, Capilano College and the Canadian Auto Workers Union.

As part of the planning process for the project, a series of public forums are being held throughout the region next week to gather ideas from everyone with a stake in the future growth and success of the tourism industry. Forums will be held at the Pemberton Valley Lodge on Monday, June 12, from 7 to 9 p.m.; at the Squamish campus of Capilano College Tuesday, June 13, 7-9 p.m.; and at the Telus Conference Centre in Whistler Wednesday, June 14, 7-9 p.m.

For those that cannot attend the public forum, there will be an online survey available for input. Visit seatosky.go2hr.ca for details.

This data collected to date shows that there is some additional capacity in the Aboriginal population to be recruited into the tourism sector. However it emphasizes that this capacity is fairly limited and cannot meet to any meaningful extent the labour shortfall seen in the Whistler tourism labour market.

The Sea-to-Sky Tourism HR Strategy is the first initiative to examine tourism human resource management issues in the region including transportation, housing, strengthening relationships with Aboriginal groups, better access to foreign workers, and ensuring front-line employees are equipped to provide world-class service.

The findings from the research and community consultation sessions will be used to develop a regional human resources plan to support tourism growth to 2015. The plan, expected to be completed in fall of 2006, will include recommendations on recruitment, retention and training to support tourism growth now, during and after the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

Meanwhile, a survey of more than 2,000 small businesses by the B.C. Skills Force Initiative found that small business owners and operators across northern B.C. are missing opportunities because they can’t find the skilled labour they require. The resurgence in mining and a booming oil and gas industry are absorbing much of the northern labour force.

The B.C. Skills Force project, a joint initiative of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce and the Community Futures Development Association of B.C., found that small businesses generally don’t have the capacity or access to the resources needed to properly train employees to take on more responsibilities.

The Skills Force Report calls for senior governments to create regional small business advisory groups across the province. This would enable small business owners to coordinate strategies with educational institutions, small business service providers and government to address skills issues.

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