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Whistler grapples with provincial labour crunch

There's a labour crunch hitting Whistler and Wayne Katz has seen it first hand.

The owner of Zog's, Moguls and Gone Bakery said that he's experiencing a "significant difficulty" in finding labour at his Whistler businesses, a trend that analysts are noticing around British Columbia.

"I'm unable to recruit people," he said. "We're getting few resumes and we're putting ads onto Craigslist as well as (Pique) and the response is limited.

"The industry that I'm in, food and beverage, we find it very difficult to get response from Canadians to work in our industry."

Katz's comments are supported by statistics collected as part of the B.C Labour Market Outlook 2010-2020, a joint initiative between BC Stats and the provincial Ministry of Finance.

The report states that demand for workers is expected to increase at a higher rate than the labour force in all regions of British Columbia up to the end of the decade. Demand for workers in the province as a whole is expected to outgrow the labour force by 61,500 workers from 2010 to 2020.

B.C.'s Mainland/Southwest region, which includes Whistler and the Lower Mainland, is expected to account for 65 per cent of job openings over this period, followed by Vancouver Island/Coast with 15 per cent and the Thompson/Okanagan region with 11 per cent.

The trend has given pause to people working in the tourism sector, who now worry that places like Whistler can't find enough people to fill the jobs coming up.

Indeed, go2, a firm that helps grow the tourism and hospitality industries through various programs and services, recently held a well-attended consultation with the Whistler Chamber of Commerce to help it update a human resources action plan to deal with upcoming labour shortages.

Arlene Keis, go2's CEO, said her firm is projecting a shortage of 3,500 workers in Whistler up to 2015, much of it a shortage of workers from a younger demographic.

"One-third of the workforce is young people between 15 and 24," she said. "That youth demographic is declining, which is the biggest problem.

"Canada certainly isn't going to have enough people and globally markets like Australia are declining, so it's presenting a real challenge to go after youth."

The reason, Keis said, is population growth: the generation born after 1980 simply isn't having as many children as in previous decades.

"People like you are not having enough babies," she said, pointing specifically to twenty and thirty-somethings. "Generations before you, everybody had four, five, six kids, now a lot of families are choosing not to. That's why schools are being shut down, because there are not enough students.

"You've got people like me who are boomers as well, who are starting to age and retire. So having young people come in, those are our future leaders but there's not enough of them coming in."

Jock Finlayson, executive vice-president at the Business Council of B.C., which advocates on behalf of major business enterprises, said a labour market shortage isn't specific to British Columbia but has been identified on a national scale. He pointed to two causes in particular.

"There is a skill mismatch that exists in the labour market and people debate exactly how large it is, but it's certainly appreciable," he said. "Those who are looking for work don't necessarily have the skills or the interests to fit with the available jobs.

"So that can play a role in creating hiring challenges for employers, and then (another) factor, more specific to Whistler, it's an even more micro factor, is the high cost of living and housing in that area, relative to the compensation people are given."

A possible solution to the labour shortage, Finlayson said, could be having a bigger debate about immigration - how many people to let into the country, and what criteria should the federal government be using before they permit them.

Jesse Ferreras is a reporter for the Pique newsmagazine, where a version of this report first appeared.

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