Wooing the workers 

Short-staffed hoteliers check out new strategies for enticing staff to Whistler

Whistler's major hotels are rethinking hiring strategies after mixed success in garnering staff this winter.

"We still have about 30 vacant positions," said Scott Taber, Four Seasons Resort Whistler general manager. The 273-room hotel normally hires about 200 winter staff.

Taber says there were 65 per cent fewer participants at the hotel's three fall job fairs this year. The drop in numbers could be attributed to a number of factors, he said, such as a shrinking work force, the cost of housing in Whistler, and opportunities elsewhere, but he said last year's seven-week snow drought didn't help.

"We are suffering from last year's bad PR," Taber said. "Some people must have thought that if there wasn't good skiing, maybe Whistler's not a good place to work."

He said Four Seasons is still looking for unskilled employees, primarily in housekeeping.

Across the village, the Hilton Whistler filled its quota for unskilled labourers but says it still has room for skilled staff.

"We had no problem filling entry-level positions," said Tina Trebilco, Hilton Whistler's human resources manager. The newly-renovated 289-room hotel easily found the 100-plus employees it needs, Trebilco said, adding that the extensive renovations probably helped attract staff.

"People like to see what's been done and what we have to offer."

But Trebilco noted that middle management positions were not so easy to fill.

"Front office managers are extremely hard to come by."

The hotel filled two of three available front office manager positions.

Staff housing was the key to attracting staff to the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, said Charmaine Tener, director of human resources. Fairmont hired all of the 200 staff it required.

"We're able to house everyone," Teber said of the 550-room hotel.

Although the Westin Resort and Spa hired close to 150 staff, Karen Wilhelm, director of human resources, said the hotel is still about 10 people short in housekeeping. Wilhelm said the 419-suite Westin held its job fair later, in the first week of November, than in previous years, in the hopes of hiring staff committed to staying for the season. "And the quality of candidates has proven to be better," she said.

Statistics Canada released a report this week stating that Western Canada hoteliers are having difficulty attracting both skilled and unskilled labour this year. The study polled 1,300 businesses across Canada in October and found that one in three hotels in Western Canada has concerns about attracting staff, citing low unemployment rates as a possible factor.

Whistler's Employment Resource Centre (WERC) had close to 100 job openings posted this week, said Jodi Annett, the centre's co-ordinator.

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