Tough employment talk at WOW dinner 

Whistler-Blackcomb’s top hirer tells Women of Whistler employers need to rethink strategies

By Vivian Moreau

Whistler employers need to start taking a kinder, gentler approach to employees, Whistler-Blackcomb’s head of hiring told a group of 50 professional and business women this week.

Facing a potential 10-year drought of hospitality and tourism workers employers need to give Generation Y — 19-36 year olds — a voice in the work place, Kirby Brown told Women of Whistler, a women’s business network, at their monthly dinner meeting held at Bavaria restaurant Tuesday evening.

Brown said today’s workers are different from those like him, who came to Whistler years ago from the job-scarce Maritimes.

“I was hungry for work and didn’t expect anything other than a paycheque,” said Brown, Whistler-Blackcomb’s director of human resources. But workers arriving this fall from around the world “don’t want to be a number in a corporation. They want to have a measured control over their lives. They demand a lot more than generations prior.”

Brown said employers, whether they have five or 1,500 staff, need to include employees in a company’s vision, to ask for staff input and to consider suggestions for change. He said employers are also going to have to pay higher wages because Whistler is “fishing in the same pond” as every other town in economically hot B.C. and Alberta.

“There are people in this room who will weigh working 160 days straight this season versus paying $15 (an hour to staff) when they used to just pay $10,” Brown said.

Brown said employers who can’t look overseas as Whistler-Blackcomb did this year for staff, should consider being more flexible with Whistler residents. He suggested hiring mothers, retirees, and high school students and realizing these potential employees may not be able to work 10-hour shifts expected of other workers.

First Nations also need to be approached and integrated into Whistler’s community.

“If we’re going overseas to find people then we also need to approach Mount Currie,” Brown said, but added that even if every available employee from the First Nations community were hired Whistler would still be short 3,500 hospitality workers.

Brown stressed that word of mouth through treating employees right this year will produce results down the road. Changes to working visas and expanding the list of countries employers can draw from will not have a noticeable effect this season, he said.

His message of shortfalls and need for change was one with which many in the audience were familiar.

Judy Riding has been branch manager of Westland Insurance in Marketplace for 18 months and in that time her staff of six have completely turned over. Although the branch pays staff an average of 30 per cent higher than Lower Mainland colleagues, the Surrey-based company recently approved a 12 per cent pay hike for Whistler staff. This summer Riding also tried another approach to keep staff content.

“I took everyone, including the Squamish branch staff, whitewater rafting to the tune of several thousand dollars,” she said.

North Shore Credit Unions’ human resources head made the drive from North Vancouver to hear Brown speak. Karen Wilkins said the credit union has brought in employee-focused management teams to bring attrition rates down and is looking at different hiring strategies.

“We find that traditional hiring practices — placing a recruitment ad saying we’re looking for this, this, and this skill — just doesn’t work anymore,” she said. Instead, Wilkins has been establishing connections with local businesses and getting the word out when she needs employees.

“We get to know business owners who know what you’re looking for in terms of people and they may know someone who has the experience level — that’s when your network starts working for you.”

Kimberly Tate, Four Seasons’ assistant director of human resources says the two-year old hotel will likely be short staff this winter. Although the hotel has travelled to and hired from Australia, Chile, Peru and Costa Rica this year the hotel will still be short about 30-40 staff. “We’re hoping we’re not going to be short but that’s probably a fairy tale.”

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