The job board at WorkBC in Revelstoke is filled with ads for cooks, dishwashers, housekeepers and hotel clerks. At a glance, it appears every hotel and restaurant in town is hiring for various hospitality positions.
“Right now we have on our job board 13 housekeeping and private cleaner positions,” said Rana Nelson from WorkBC. “Thirteen posted, but I know that some employers are feeling, ‘What’s the point?’ in some cases. I’m sure there’s more than 13 positions out there.”
Revelstoke’s labour shortage — like in pretty much every other resort community – has reached a tipping point and led to the formation of a committee to look at ways to deal with the issue. During a series of interviews last week, we were told of hotels that had to close rooms because they didn’t have enough cleaners, and restaurants that reduced hours.
“It’s pretty drastic for us as far as housekeeping. We’re managing right now but it changes week to week,” said one hotel manager who asked not to be named. “Right now we’re running into a situation where people we do have can’t find a place to live or rent is too high, so they’re going to be departing.”
Meanwhile, the manager of one restaurant said they might have to cut back on hours if they can’t hire more kitchen staff.
Revelstoke’s labour issues can be broken down into seasons. In winter, with the influx of ski bums, there’s enough labour, but housing is an issue. In the summer, housing is less of a problem, but there’s less people to fill all the positions needed to keep hotels and restaurants staffed. Earlier this month, a meeting was held with stakeholders to come up with solutions to the problem.
In an e-mail, Meghan Tabor, the manager of Tourism Revelstoke, described it as a “crisis.”
“It’s an accurate term for a short period of time. July and August seems to be that time of year that hotels and the tourism industry feel the most affected,” she said in an interview. “It’s a really high concentration of guests in a short period of time. A lot of hotels and restaurants and retailers experience staff burnout.”
It’s not a problem unique to Revelstoke — Banff and Whistler have been facing this problem for several years and last Thursday CBC Kelowna had a story about Fernie’s labour shortage. In 2014, a report by the Tourism Industry Association of Canada said Canada’s tourism sector is facing a labour shortage of 250,000 workers by 2030. It estimated this would result in a $31.4 billion in lost revenue. Locally, if a hotel room can’t be filled because it can’t be cleaned, it means less people in town spending money at local businesses.
“When you can’t sell a hotel room, that’s an impact. There’s also an impact in terms of the visitor experience,” said Tabor. “They may not have as great word of mouth if they didn’t have a great experience if the staff at the restaurant was exhausted because it was their seventh shift in seven days.”
Arlene Keis, the CEO of Go2HR, a human resources firm that specializes in the tourism sector, said there are several causes of the shortage. One is that there are fewer young people who normally fill those jobs. She said a third of tourism workers are youth, compared to 16 per cent of workers in most other sectors.
Another factor is young people have more job options. “It’s not like you get your first job at a restaurant — they’re being recruited by mining companies and forestry companies, and all across Canada,” said Keis.
Then there’s the seasonal nature of the jobs, making it difficult for employers to offer year-round employment. In Revelstoke, it’s only really busy for a few months in winter and summer.
“A lot of employers are small businesses and they don’t have a lot of resources to provide recruitment and retention bonuses,” said Keis. “People don’t really see tourism and hospitality jobs as viable careers.”
The changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker program are another issue. They’ve made it much more difficult to bring in worker’s in from abroad. Revelstoke is grouped in with the Thompson-Okanagan region, whose unemployment rate is considered too high to bring in foreign workers, but local employers say the situation is different here.
“It comes down to some positions you need foreign workers to fill because Canadians don’t want to do it,” said the hotel manager.
I brought up the issue of wages with the people I talked to — generally the jobs that aren’t being filled are lower paying ones. A housekeeper, for example, will make about $13-15 per hour in Revelstoke, which was described as a competitive wage in the industry. “In certain positions its feasible but in others its not,” said the hotel manager. “I think we pay well for all the positions.”
Keis noted these positions are entry level and wages make up a significant part of costs for tourism businesses. They’re also in a competitive global market where consumers can be very picky.
She said employers should try to tap into under-represented groups like retired baby boomers, the disabled and First Nations.
Tabor said the stakeholder committee will be looking at a community-wide recruitment strategy. She said they could look at recruiting workers much like they look at attracting tourists. “We could look overseas at some of the markets we’re already attracting,” she said. “We would connect with the recruitment agencies down there and help guide them through the process of coming here.”
Norm Langlois, the manager of the Hillcrest Hotel, said they contacted former employees and recruited them to spend the summer here. They also used a recruiting company to fill two positions.
Looming over all of this is housing. In Revelstoke, everyone I talked to brought up housing as the biggest issue. The proliferation of vacation rentals was blamed in some instances.
“Employers are telling people that they’re offering people jobs, but there’s no housing,” said Nelson. “It has to go hand in hand with a place to live as well.”
The Hillcrest purchased a home to house seven of their workers and will likely purchase or build more staff housing, said Langlois. “Without staff housing we would have had to close rooms this summer,” he said.
Paul Deutsch, one of the owners of the new Ramada Inn, said they recruited aggressively outside the community to find workers, but the key was buying several homes to house them.
“People from overseas can’t come unless we can guarantee a place to live,” he said. “It added a whole other scope to our business in the community.”