The Whistler Chamber of Commerce released the results to its Working in Whistler surveys this month—the first since 2016—and they painted a picture of a business sector that continues to struggle with a major labour shortage.
The chamber sought responses through two surveys: one for employees and one for employers. Open from April 17 to May 6, the employee survey garnered 873 responses, which will be used to inform the chamber's future Whistler Experience programming as well as devise next steps for its Labour Task Force, which was formed in February.
In the survey, local workers said that their employers could best support them through better wages and benefits, updated technology, providing the right training tools, hiring more staff, offering opportunities for growth, a better-trained management team and team recognition.
"When you have such an issue with labour, what we're finding is that many of the businesses are basically putting their employees up to management level without 100 per cent of the proper training for it," explained chamber CEO Melissa Pace.
When asked how to better attract workers to Whistler, employees unsurprisingly named "cheaper housing and better wages" as the top strategies, followed by advocating for longer working holiday visas and easier access to visas for Americans, providing more funding for job-specific training, addressing affordability, and promoting Whistler "as a caring community."
"We're obviously running a recruitment and retention strategy here with the Whistler Experience program, so to see that the employees are asking for additional training was really good to see," Pace noted.
Employees also identified housing, wages and additional benefits, such as covering transit costs and receiving immigration support from employers, as ways to better retain staff.
For its employer survey, which ran from May 5 to June 25, the chamber received 92 responses. The responding businesses reported hiring 1,239 full-time and 1,831 part-time and casual staff this past winter, leaving a total of 250 positions unfilled.
The culinary sector reported having the most difficulty filling positions last winter, followed by tradespeople, night auditors, maintenance workers and labourers.
Recruiting qualified employees, housing issues, paying higher wages and providing more attractive benefits were listed, in order, as the biggest staffing challenges facing businesses last winter.
The survey also showed that only 31 per cent of responding businesses use HR professionals to help recruit and retain staff.
"Any business that has an HR specialist working with them will always be able to perform better because that person is going to take away the stress of worrying about that HR component," Pace said.
When asked for "non-HR-related" strategies to overcome staffing challenges, 30 per cent of employers named automation and technical solutions as the top potential strategy, followed by simplifying its product range, shortening business hours, and "modified communication' with the customer.
"I think technology, in the long run, will definitely help with the labour issues we're having," said Pace.
Of course, the brunt of the cost to implement the solutions suggested in the surveys would fall on employers that are already feeling the financial pinch of the labour crisis. Pace said it's essential that local businesses run the cost-benefit analysis to determine which measures would be the most effective in the long term to attract staff.
"Businesses have to look at what's going to drive their business forward and what's most important to them and their culture," she added. "Any added cost is not a good thing for small business, but at the end of the day, they have to make some decisions on what works for them."
The results of the Working in Whistler surveys can be viewed at www.whistlerchamber.com.