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Whistler jobs go vacant as winter season moves into high gear

From the outside, Whistler looks poised for another bumper season. The tardy snow has arrived in a flurry of enthusiasm and the streets are filled with tourists, not to mention the anticipation of Christmas.

However, whether local businesses have enough staff to meet the demand is less certain. Take a walk through the village and it doesn’t take long for the severity of the situation to sink in. Between AlpenRock and the Brew House for example, approximately every third shop has a staff vacancy sign in the window. A less in-your-face recruiting drive is also underway within local newspapers, at the employment centre and on public notice boards. A quick glance at this paper’s own classifieds last week reveals six pages worth of employment advertisements by some 60 companies looking for staff. This contrasts sharply with the 16 businesses looking to hire through the paper at the same time last year.

A massive recruitment drive in a town as driven by seasonal visitor fluctuations as Whistler isn’t really so unusual. What is out of the ordinary is the hunt for workers so late in the season – a mere three weeks before the peak Christmas rush. Or is this becoming the new norm?

Restaurateur John Grills says he has been advertising steadily since early fall in anticipation of an employee crunch situation.

"We never tried street recruiting because can you imagine going to a restaurant and seeing a Chef Wanted sign in the window – people would think, who’s cooking now?" he laughs.

Grills’ efforts have paid off with his core staff of 25 employees at Zeuski’s Taverna and 35 staff at Thai One On all onboard and ready for the busy winter season. However, he says the real test will come in February, when staff are less desperate for work after the Christmas period earnings and skier volumes are still increasing.

Another staffing problem unique to mountain resorts is that some natural attrition occurs through sporting injuries, Grills added.

As the Town Plaza representative on the Commercial Core Committee that reports to Tourism Whistler, Grills is in touch with how other businesses are faring. He says everyone, especially the smaller retail shops, are concerned about impending worker shortages, particularly given last year was so difficult.

It is a valid concern. A survey by the Whistler Housing Authority last winter revealed employers were short some 650 workers during the peak of the 1999/2000 season – a crucial factor for many companies that rely on the winter trade to get them through the quiet shoulder seasons.