Worker-bee issues mean it's time to look to best practices 

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I am not, as I've stated before, a journalist. Journalists gather news and report; I opine. Clare, the editor, tells me journalists are supposed to be objective. Priests tell me priests are supposed to be celibate. I'm not sure the evidence bears either of them out. Regardless, I've never aspired to be objective. What fun is that? I write opinion.

And yes, opinions are like that certain part of anatomy, the one we all have. But mine are mine and yours are yours and sometimes they differ while sometimes they're quite similar. One truism about opinions is we won't all agree all the time. So if you like my opinion, that's fine by me. If you don't, that's fine too... just write a letter to Clare and let her know why I'm wrong and you're right. But fair warning — she takes marks off for misspelling and bad grammar.

So let's check the recent scorecard to see who I've managed to piss off with my opinion. People for whom you can't have the word Israel in a sentence without very quickly following it with the words "can do no wrong"? Check. People who think it's better to shoot bears than turn them into tourist attractions? Check. The local Chamber of Commerce? Check. Some, OK, most local employers? Check.

Who's left? Oh, local workers and charter members of Generation Slacker. How could I have forgotten them?

I've spoken to several bidnizpeople and have received feedback from many more, not all of it gracious but all appreciated. To say there seems to be a red-state, blue-state divide on the issue of employment in Whistler would not be pressing the point too far. Except for the fact I haven't heard from one notable segment of the business community. I haven't heard from those who don't seem to have a problem recruiting and retaining workers. But we'll return to that missing piece of the puzzle in a couple of hundred words.

Employers who are having difficulties finding employees seem to have largely two theories as to why it's so hard. One theory is scarcity — the requisite number of workers simply aren't out there... anywhere. Their solution is to bring in more workers in whichever way is most expedient.

There is some merit to their theory. Whistler's unemployment rate is far below the national average, around two per cent. And there are only so many potential employees in Squamish, Pemberton and Mt. Currie who want to commute to Whistler on a regular basis.

But bringing in more workers, regardless of the source, is a strategy beset with its own problems, not the least of which is where to house them. Housing is, once again, getting pretty tight and is, as always, expensive and not necessarily spacious or uncrowded. Coupled with an overall higher cost of living, it doesn't take a genius to see the problem.

Some employers are clamouring to have Whistler exempted from the current ban on temporary foreign workers. While that would make it easier — though I'm not entirely certain why — to bring workers into the valley, it too is beset with problems. Same housing issue, increased social services issues since by definition they'd be coming from a foreign culture with an even flimsier grasp of English than those of us who grew up butchering the language, cultural integration issues and that slippery concept of "temporary." Add to this the potential for employers to abuse both the program and the workers themselves and the government's aversion to backtracking on a populist move and you come to the conclusion that falling back on the TFW program is, at best, a long shot.

Of far greater interest is the second theory which, for lack of a better phrase and to generate some feedback, I'll continue to call Generation Slacker. While GS people, according to those who offered this theory, tend to be 20/30somethings, it's not a demographic generation thing. There are older GSers and for all I know I may be one of them.

The overriding hallmark of a GSer is a self-indulgent quest for something called a work-life balance, a Quixotic and possibly middle-class, first-world concept. Work is something you have to do to fund your life but your life — and all the rich experiences that go into defining it — comes first. Scheduled to work during the Pemby or Squamish music fest? Blow it off, dude. Got a better offer for the morning than your shift at work? No-brainer; go bike riding.

GSers, according to the theorists, have no work ethic. They have no loyalty toward their employer. They'd rather work a bit, collect EI a bit, scam the system whenever possible, and flit from job to job, replaying the useful life of the new employee cycle until their fraud is evident. From the descriptions I've heard, they probably all have a sampler hung in their livingroom touting the words of wisdom of Franklin Freak, he of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers: "Drugs will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no drugs."

Lest you think this is just the ranting of exploitative employers, there is some data to back that theory up. It wasn't long ago the scads of statistics Whistler gathers and tracks found residents would rather have more free time than make more money. But then, this town isn't considered the homeland of hedonism for nothing.

Of course, one of the problems with the GS theory is all those 20somethings I know who work multiple jobs, none of which pay enough or have steady enough hours to be their only job. Mention Generation Slacker to them and you'll get an earful about jobs that don't pay enough and have no benefits, jobs where they show up only to be sent home because it's a slow day, employers who call them in on the spur of the moment because it's suddenly busy and employers who believe loyalty only flows one way.

But perception is perception and absent a better model, it's what passes for and, in a self-fulfilling way, becomes reality. So how do we change it?

Perhaps it would be a grand gesture for the Chamber to have employers who aren't experiencing the debilitating problems of recruiting and retaining employees to share their practices with those who are. Is there something to be learned?

Is there merit in employers working together to recruit employees, both locally and nationally? Are we doing what we can to attract other Commonwealth kids who don't have to slip in under the TFW program? Is unending growth our only salvation?

I have a lot of respect and admiration for the folks who have started businesses in Whistler. They've made this a much better place to live. And I'm pretty sure if we work together and work smart, this problem can be licked.


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