Opinion » Editorial

Raising the stakes

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The much-anticipated results of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce Working in Whistler employee survey are not surprising. The numbers merely back up the obvious: A young workforce is the unheralded machine that keeps this resort town running.

But it is a transient workforce — with 71 per cent of survey respondents reporting they spent two years or fewer in their current position. They are transient in that they move from job to job, with more than two-thirds of of them saying they are permanent residents here.

This is revealing. The underlying intent of collecting the survey results is to improve resort-wide employee recruitment and retention. From anecdotal evidence and observations, it appears there is no issue with attracting staff. After all, workers flock from all over the world to live the Whistler dream. That's not news to us. But the problem is when people arrive: they have few choices for housing, are routinely paid from $11 to $15 an hour — in a resort where experts have pegged the minimum requirement at about $21 an hour — and they have trouble making ends meet.

They like it here, but they follow the money trail. In a largely unskilled workforce, a few dollars an hour more in salary would make anyone switch jobs. So this leaves business owners wondering how they can retain staff.

How about benefits? Paying a worker $11 an hour means that worker earns less than $22,000 a year, the magic point at which the province will pay for the worker's medical coverage. There are a lot of these jobs around — mostly in the food-and-beverage industry. And 25 per cent of survey respondents work in this industry.

How about flexible work hours? Sure. For a worker who is holding down two jobs, of course, the flexibility is crucial so the worker can get from the day job in the store to the evening job in a restaurant or bar. How else to afford the place to rent?

Housing ranked tops for 69 per cent of survey respondents, followed by 47 per cent who named increase wages: these are the Top 2 ways to retain staff.

"It's no surprise really that housing and wages have come out on top," said Whistler Blackcomb (WB) VP of employee experience Joel Chevalier, who also served on the report's committee.

About 37 per cent of respondents said they don't think their wages are enough to cover their daily needs. Work-life balance is what attracts people to Whistler. And when asked what the key factors are that "drive" quality of life, the results are as follows: decent wages; access to affordable housing; flexible work hours; decent employee benefits; and access to appropriate housing.

Two of the five factors mentioned by respondents involve housing. For all the talk about work-life balance with flexibility, workers are sending the message loud and clear: Housing. Housing. Housing.

And despite this message, what is even more revealing is that 68 per cent of respondents "feel personally responsible for creating the best customer experience."

Wow. Whistler has a workforce that is poorly paid (largely), that is transient — heading for the best wages they can find — and still, the majority of them take incredible pride in their jobs and — one can only extrapolate from there — they truly want to make sure the resort lives up to its reputation by providing the best customer service. Further to that, a full 97 per cent say they care about the quality of their work culture.

In a Pique news story last week, one employer cited a business increase of 10 to 15 per cent every year for the last three years. How many employers increased their employees wages to reflect this? How many created bonus incentives?

The end result is that the Chamber recommends that work be undertaken with partners to further the resort's recruitment and retention endeavours. A third-party housing study is recommended, as is an effort to attract more staff, First Nations workers among them.

By the time studies are commissioned, meetings held, and further recommendations made, the workers that are the backbone of Whistler will continue to struggle. They will take pride in their work, subsist on meagre salaries and smile as employers chart the increase in business.

They deserve at least a raise.



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