Whistler businesses should look south for labour 

SFU professor says Americans starting to see Canada as attractive place

British Columbia is headed for a perfect storm when it comes to labour, according to a Simon Fraser University professor who spoke at a Whistler Chamber of Commerce luncheon on June 18.

Ashley Bennington, a visiting professor at SFU’s Faculty of Business Administration, told an audience at the Hilton Whistler Resort that B.C. and Canada are undergoing massive changes when it comes to filling the jobs needed to support their economies.

In a talk titled “The Perfect Storm – Trends in Human Resources,” he identified numerous factors that are contributing to this trend, notably the fact that there are now more jobs in Canada than there are employees to fill them — and Whistler is no exception.

“We do have significant challenges coming on the demographic front,” he said. “There's a lot of companies that are having great difficulties in attracting new employees and then in just retaining them once they’re here.”

One of the reasons for this is a labour market shift between baby boomers, people born after WWII, and the so-called “Generation Y,” people born after 1980.

Bennington explained that after WWII, there was a surplus of people available to fill jobs in Canada’s economy. Today, there aren’t enough people to fill all the jobs out there.

He said there are enormous vacancies in numerous sectors and pointed to B.C.’s health care system as an example, which he said is short of 1,100 nurses and about 600 doctors.

“Health care’s entire collective agreement system is based on the idea that we have a labour surplus,” he said. “Now we don’t, we have a labour shortage and we’re burning through overtime like mad just to keep up with all the work because we didn’t train enough people in the university system.”

Whistler, Bennington said, is facing a labour shortage due to a number of factors including the price of real estate, though he said it also has to do with “psychographic” factors, meaning a particular value system or lifestyle. He said that people who enjoy skiing, snowboarding and other activities you’ll find at Whistler are seeking those opportunities elsewhere.

“The people that are most vulnerable, that are hit hardest by this, are the ones that are the youngest,” he said. “The experience for Whistler, it’s still very attractive, and there will still be people who are willing to come here, it’s just going to be harder to find them.”

One of the solutions to B.C.’s looming labour crisis is to attract more workers from outside the province, Bennington said, but even this will not solve all of the province’s problems.

“The problem is the demand still stays higher than supply, and this is only going to get worse because retirements will accelerate, turnovers will accelerate, leaves of absence will continue,” he said.

Bennington pressed people at the luncheon to push to make deals with governments that will make it easier for Whistler to hire workers with foreign credentials. He cited his work at the Fraser Health Authority as an example of how beneficial it can be to have deals with governments.

“Fraser Health does not need any permissions to bring people in from outside of the country anymore because we cut a side deal with HRSDC. We don’t even have to do expedited labour market opinions.

“We just get a list of people we want to hire from England, submit it to the feds, they give us a two-day turnaround, and then we just hire them. We don’t even deal with people anymore.”

As far as seeking out new employees, Bennington implored Whistler businesses to seek out new labour from the United States, particularly Washington state, where he said Whistler’s profile has grown in recent years.

“For the first time the Americans are seeing Canada as an attractive place to live,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot of applications come up from Bellingham, Seattle, sort of Puget Sound area, of people that don’t have jobs, or they have jobs and they’re looking to improve their quality of life.”

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