September 01, 2006 Features & Images » Feature Story

Meet the new recruits 

It's not just a shortage of workers that Whistler is facing, but a new generation
with new expectations. Ralph Forsyth looks ahead to worker challenges.

It’s a perfect storm for these scarce recruits who have a reputation for being the most cynical workforce ever. Photo by Scott Brammer,
  • It’s a perfect storm for these scarce recruits who have a reputation for being the most cynical
    workforce ever. Photo by Scott Brammer,

If you have a heartbeat and promise not to rob me blind then you’re hired!

This may become a familiar refrain with Whistler’s employers this season as the resort ramps up for winter. Long gone are the days when business owners could choose from a big stack of resumes of oh so well groomed and mannered twenty-somethings looking to live the dream of ski bumming in Whistler.

The competition for workers is tight. According to the Tourism Labour Market Demand Analysis for the Sea-to-Sky Region, prepared by Ruth Emery of Canbritic Consultants Ltd, "Overall, Whistler requires 3,000 to 3,500 workers beyond the numbers available in the resident workforce to conduct the year’s tourism business. This is even once the availability of a surplus workforce in the surrounding Squamish-Lillooet area is factored in."

It’s a perfect storm for these scarce recruits who have a reputation for being the most cynical workforce ever. Boldly pierced and blatantly tattooed, this generation tends to distrust hierarchy and is deeply cynical about business in general, and finds service industry work… demeaning.

With so much of the Whistler experience riding on frontline staff how can employers ensure they are recruiting, training and retaining the best employees?

Crisis, what crisis?

Compounding the employee shortage problem is the fact that the young and the freshly graduated (who have soul-crushing student loans to repay) have very good options for employment. Even if Whistler’s wages increase there’s no guarantee that the town will be attractive to young workers. As the Emery report notes, "While earnings (in Whistler) for the resident workforce in the key tourism occupations is higher than the B.C. average for the same occupations, earnings are still generally below those seen in many other sectors and occupations. Many of the industries now looking to recruit young workers, such as mining, oil & gas, and construction are offering higher pay rates as well as permanent and full time work. This pay difference has been the case for many years. What is different now is that these industries are actively recruiting, compared to being in lay-off mode as they were until a year ago."

Recently released are two reports tabled by local organizations on how Whistler is going to overcome the current labour crunch. The reports titled, "Recruitment Strategy for the Sea to-Sky Region" by local consultant Bernie Lalor-Morton of Focus Forward Coaching and Consulting, and "Stakeholder Consultation and Qualitative Research Study" produced by William Roberts and Mechthild (Mecki) Facundo of Leadership Sea-to-Sky, have many similar themes and recommendations on how to solve our human resources conundrum.

Lalor-Morton’s recruitment strategy recommends several tactics to increase employee levels, including focusing recruiting on specific candidate groups, especially those traditionally underrepresented; developing a coordinated and collaborative effort on behalf of each community in the corridor; reversing the negative perceptions of the tourism industry as a viable career path; and addressing the high cost of living associated with residing in the corridor.

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