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Staff shortages force Whistler Children's Centre to cap enrolment

Potential recruits shun jobs in resort

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It's been an ongoing challenge for Whistler daycares to attract early childhood educators, but Kari Gaudet said what's shocked her is how potential recruits physically recoil when they learn that a job offer exists in Whistler.

Gaudet, executive director of the Whistler Children's Centre Society, which is now forced to cap enrolment at eight for its babies and toddler program as of May 1, said she's tried everything to recruit qualified staff, from development funds and scholarships, to cash incentives.

Gaudet said she's hit the job fairs — where those who will soon graduate as Early Childhood Educators (ECE) are seemingly eager.

"When we say we are from Whistler, we actually get a physical response where they back up and their backs stiffen, and they're like 'oh, no — not interested in that,'" said Gaudet.

"It's so disheartening. Whistler has a reputation," she said. "We don't even get to have a conversation with someone. We don't even have an infant toddler person applying." Gaudet said it's been more than a year since she has been able to hire a qualified teacher and has been making it work up until now with staff overtime.

Spaces become available when a current child is withdrawn from the program, but Gaudet said families who have a child enrolled and require more days must wait — which means she doesn't even get to those on the waitlist looking for whatever days they can get.

"We need infant-toddler qualified teachers and they are not out there and they're not coming to Whistler, which factors into the housing and the cost of living and everything else we deal with here."

The situation has become so serious Gaudet sent out a letter to the waitlist families advising them of the situation and telling them that as of May 1, enrolment in the Dandelions Infant Program wil be capped at eight children per day.

Gaudet said talk in the community that building more facilities for child-care will solve the problem is misleading.

"We don't have the child-care workers right now in our communities to run the centres we do have.

The problem is not unique to Whistler, as a recent story in the Squamish Chief quoted Lisa McIntosh, Child Care Resource and Referral consultant with Sea to Sky Community Services as saying the rapid growth has proved a challenge for parents who need care for children aged one to three.

Gaudet said some local business owners understand the challenge.

"Any parents who also have their own businesses in town have spoken about their own struggles with trying to find employees to run their businesses," she said.

"We've been doing everything and anything," said Gaudet. "We reach across the country. We just got notice that someone we'd hired back in winter isn't coming for May 1."

— With files from Jennifer Thuncher

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