Industry researching solutions for tourism staffing shortage

A $70,000 investment was made by the provincial government to create a B.C. Tourism Labour Market Strategy

Seasonal employers lost in a blizzard of staff turnover may soon find help in regaining their footing thanks to a $70,000 investment by the provincial government to create a B.C. Tourism Labour Market Strategy.

The study applies to the province’s 14 resort communities, and will be completed by the non-profit Go2 Tourism Human Resources Society.

“We really don’t have a clear understanding of the resort community labour market system and how it functions overall,” said Peter Larose, director of policy and research at Go2. “We know there are a lot of really good innovative practices out there and we want to start comparing these resort communities to one another and looking overseas at other examples of really good practices.”

The study will look at recruitment, training and retention of staff throughout B.C., including Radium Hot Springs and Invermere.

The team at Go2 is working quickly to batten down the hatches of an industry up against what is becoming a perfect storm of labour market troubles – especially in the Kootenays, he said.

“We have more people retiring from the labour force than we have ever seen in the history of our labour market and we will have fewer young people entering into the workforce every year for the next 10 years,” Mr. Larose explained. “We have some really significant headwinds in the tourism sector because we are so heavily reliant on young people. This is especially exasperated in rural areas and the Kootenays.”

In a province-wide survey conducted by the group in 2011 it was found that, out of the six major tourism regions in B.C., 54 per cent of respondents in the Kootenays claimed to have difficulty maintaining a full staff throughout the season.

Resort employers in the Columbia Valley and Kootenays in general must face the added challenge of competing for staff against resource-based sectors such as mining, forestry and oil and gas, which often offer more lucrative salaries, he said.

The lure of a larger paycheck, however, is not enough to reel in the majority of resort employees, Mr. Larose admitted.

“We don’t try to compete as a sector on salaries for most occupations,” he said. “We find that young people are really drawn to the tourism sector, especially in the recreation and culinary fields, because of the lifestyle and how it aligns with their passions and interests.”

Although the challenges are stacked up, the team at Go2 has developed a two-phase plan to shore up an industry facing an unstable staffing situation. The plan begins with an intensive study period reviewing all available literature on resort staffing in B.C. Phase two works by developing a baseline survey of employment practices at all 14 resort communities in the province.

“We want to know how they recruit staff,” he said. “Do they have a local employment office? Who is it run by? How effective is it according to the employers and employees? What kind of opportunities are there that aren’t being met?”

After finding a baseline, the group has three case studies planned for Fernie, Tofino and Whistler, where researchers will be sent out into the communities to speak with employers and employees on the migration patterns of staff, Mr. Larose explained.

“There are some challenges here, but we do have some unique niches for drawing people to the sector as well.”

For more information on the project and employment in the tourism sector, please visit .