Romancing the worker 

Sea to Sky employers focusing on how to attract and keep hospitality workers

The problem of how to get and keep 3,500 seasonal workers needed annually by businesses in the Sea to Sky corridor is never going to go away, a consortium of hoteliers, retailers, government and tourism operators are finding. And that means upping the area’s attraction quotient.

A Sea to Sky human resources committee, with funding and consultation from provincial and federal ministries, includes representatives from the Four Seasons hotel to small retailers like 1-Hour Foto, as well as First Nations, chambers of commerce, and Capilano College. The group is working toward a regional strategy for finding, training and keeping seasonal workers, the backbone of the area’s tourism economy.

"We’ve got large and small business that all face the same issues," said Kirby Brown, Whistler-Blackcomb’s hiring strategist. "Whether it’s Whistler-Blackcomb or a mom and pop trying to get a couple of cooks in the kitchen, we have the same experience," he said.

How to attract the estimated pool of 3,500 workers needed each season, where to house them and how to make the Sea to Sky area more attractive so they want to stay are just some of the issues the 19-member committee worked on in the past year. Through open forums in the community and with three commissioned reports, the committee intends to draft guidelines that will meet the needs of employers from Britannia Beach to Pemberton.

Engaging First Nations youth, getting working visas extended from one year to two, and creating a more flexible work environment are just some recommendations of the committee’s draft report, to be released in November.

In the short term, Brown said large employers have had to travel farther afield to find workers. Whistler-Blackcomb normally pre-hires about 60 workers from overseas. This year they’ve hired four times that many, from Australia, Britain and South America.

Representatives from Whistler’s Westin hotel say this season they’re working to pinpoint arrival times for employees who travel long distances to come work in Whistler.

"We give them a specific date they’re hired so they can book their ticket closer to that date and they’re not here for three weeks trying to live on their finances," said Karen Wilhelm, human resources director.

Brown said employers who can’t hire from away need to tap into local resources by becoming more flexible with their hiring practices.

"If you’re talking to a mom who says I can work 10-3, the employer has to say OK, we’ll take it," Brown said.

In addition to extending work visas, Brown would like to see immigration made easier.

"If they’re passionate about their work, allow them to go through the immigration process. They’d make great Canadians."

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