Tourism labour study sets up in Sea to Sky 

Go2 developing strategy for recruitment, retention of tourism workers

The growing number of career ads in the back of local papers drives home the fact that Whistler is currently going through a labour shortage. Less obvious is an explanation as to why the resort is having a harder time recruiting and retaining staff, and what the solution is to the problem.

Last week go2, a human resources development organization funded by the provincial tourism industry, announced plans to develop a regional human resource plan for the Sea to Sky corridor to support tourism growth before, during and after the 2010 Winter Olympics. While the focus is Whistler, the study will also include Squamish and Pemberton.

The final report, which will be produced by a newly created Sea to Sky Tourism HR Strategy Steering Committee, will make a wide range of recommendations in three general areas: recruitment, retention and training, and development. In the process they will be looking at issues like housing, wages, demographics, gaps in training, untapped labour pools, barriers to hiring like visiting worker programs and immigration laws, and the way tourism jobs are promoted.

"We’re very early on in the process, but part of the study is to uncover not just the problems but also the solutions that impact a region’s ability to attract people," said John Leschyson, the director of industry human resources development for go2.

Some of Whistler’s issues are obvious, he said, such as housing and growing competition with resorts for skilled employees, but the goal is to leave "no stone unturned, and get as much ammo as we can for when we take our strategy to the policy makers."

Whistler is not the only town having trouble finding staff, although our problems are the most pronounced in that the shortage ranges from senior management to entry-level workers.

A recent survey of more than 30 hotels in the Kootenays found that there was a shortage of housekeeping staff.

One of the solutions gaining support recently is loosening the current guest worker and immigration policies to increase the labour pool for the tourism industry.

During a recent Pacific Northwest Economic Region conference in Whistler, the Council of Tourism Associations said that even with an increased number of post-secondary programs focusing on tourism the graduation rates are still behind the rate of attrition. Until enough people start to look into tourism as a career, the only stop-gap measure available for many resorts is to increase the number of, and lengths of stay for, guest workers and to recruit new immigrants from urban centres.

According to Leschyson most immigrant labourers continue to move to Vancouver and Victoria to be with their ethnic communities, even if it means being unemployed or underemployed. Getting those immigrants to move to resort towns and bedroom communities of resort towns will be a challenge, says Leschyson, but it could solve a problem.

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