By Andrew Mitchell
Recruiting employees may not be as difficult as originally feared this winter if the turnout to the Whistler Employment Resource Centre-Whistler Chamber of Commerce job fair is any indication, but a familiar issue has arisen with the arrival of workers — the lack of affordable accommodation.
The job fair took place Tuesday and Wednesday this week. According to the chamber, 36 businesses took part, recruiting for approximately 375 jobs. Despite concerns that Whistler businesses would have a challenge finding employees this year, more than 850 people turned out, or close to double the 350 that attended the fair last year, and about 100 more than in the 2004-05 season.
“It was definitely a lot more chaotic than last year, so we put some additional chamber resources over there to help out,” said Louise Lundy, president of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce.
“There’s no question we’re doing better than last year, and that’s at least partly because we made a concentrated effort to go out and get people to come here. We hired Randall (Butler) last month as our recruitment coordinator, and he’s been down in the city talking to schools, putting up posters, posting jobs on line and doing everything possible to get across the fact that there are jobs in Whistler. So far we’re seeing a lot of workers from the Lower Mainland, so we think that was a success.”
Although they are listed as a partner, Lundy says the Whistler Employee Resource Centre, a branch of the Whistler Community Services Society, is the main agency organizing the job fair. However, given the success of this year’s event she sees potential for the chamber to get more involved next year and to make it even larger with more businesses taking part.
“We saw strong numbers at the Whistler-Blackcomb job fair the previous week, so I guess the message is that recruiting really works,” said Lundy.
In addition to matching up employees and employers, Randall Butler also conducted a survey of almost 300 prospective employees at the job fair.
Although some of the results were expected — large numbers of Australians, New Zealanders, Japanese exchange students and U.K. nationals turned out this year — he says there were also workers who made the trip from previously untapped worker markets in South Korea and Brazil. According to Butler that indicates the potential to expand the focus of the holiday worker visa program to countries where Whistler doesn’t typically recruit.
The most striking result from the survey is that approximately 75 per cent of employees indicated that finding housing for the winter was their biggest issue.
“Being new to the community, and being a human resources guy for 10-plus years, that’s something that really jumped out at me,” said Butler. “Almost all of the people had problems finding affordable accommodation close by, without going to Pemberton or Squamish.”
Employers that offer accommodation generally have an easier time finding employees, said Lundy, and keep those employees for longer. As a result, she says the chamber will make it a priority to talk to the Whistler Housing Authority and municipality to discuss options for increasing employee rental housing in the future.
The one success is the Shoestring Project, a pool of temporary accommodation made available in the fall only at prices similar to what was offered at the Shoestring Lodge before it closed this past April. The project gives employees a place to stay while they find other accommodation for the winter season.
“Right now we’re in a situation where the kids are showing up, and if they don’t find housing they might just get on a bus and go to Banff or somewhere else,” said Lundy. “We’re finding we’re going to need to make it as easy as possible for newcomers to Whistler to find a place to live. That’s really part two of the Shoestring Project — working with our partners to be more effective in helping people to find housing.”
According to Butler most employers were happy with the job fair, and were completely booked with interviews on the first day. He also estimates that about 60 per cent of employers were booked up for day two by the end of the first day.
“I think in terms of numbers this year we’re going to be happy,” he said. “Our numbers are up this year, Whistler-Blackcomb’s numbers are up. There might be a few people who might say ‘what are you talking about?’ but from all the indications we have things are going surprisingly well.”
The survey also asked workers why they chose to come to Whistler. Overwhelmingly workers said it was because of Whistler’s reputation as a resort.
“It seems we don’t have as much trouble attracting people here,” he said, “as we do finding people places to live.”