Tourism in Whistler is better than it has ever been, but the labour sector needs to catch up to the growing demand.
Many businesses are facing a struggle as they attempt to keep up with a busy summer that is smashing last year’s record breaking numbers. Food and beverage businesses are the hardest hit, in part due to reforms in Canada’s temporary foreign worker program.
“Using 2013 data, [temporary foreign workers] represent about 2.5 per cent of our work force, and if you remove that complement, it makes it hard,” Whistler Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Val Litwin told Vancity Buzz.
Litwin said the federal government set up a rule where any catchment area with unemployment of 6 per cent or more is barred from using temporary foreign workers under the assumption that they have a large enough labour pool to choose from.
Unfortunately, Litwin said Whistler is in the Mainland Southwest catchment, which has a an unemployment rate that’s above six per cent, but Whistler is unique and needs to be able to utilize temporary foreign workers.
“Because we’re a resort community that produces a ton of tax revenue federally, provincially and locally, we keep tabs on our unemployment rate. We are well below six per cent.”
“It’s not the only solution, but it’s one tool in the kit of parts that helps us tackle the problem.”
Whistler’s Chamber of Commerce recently met with around 70 members of the business community to discuss possible solutions to attract workers to the resort town. One of the things they might do is notify people about a training partnership they have with the University of Victoria.
Litwin said people who come to Whistler to work get “world class” customer service training opportunities through the Gustavson School of Business.
“We think over the long term as more and more people know about that training partnership, they will be motivated to come and work in the resort because they’re actually going to gain a world class skill set and add value to their resume.”
It would likely involve a multi-media, multi-platform campaign to get the word out.
Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm said this past June was the busiest they’ve had on record and it’s not just an issue facing Whistler – there’s a hospitality labour shortage across the country.
“It’s an issue that the federal government needs to pay attention to,” she told Vancity Buzz.
“We are victims of our own success in a sense.”
Other ways the Whistler Chamber of Commerce is considering relieving the labour shortage is by encouraging businesses to offer competitive wages and to advertise on job boards in Vancouver as well as Whistler.