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Mountain town employers are having a hard time finding staff. Some are upping the ante

Snow might still be on the ground, but summer hiring is well underway for employers in Banff, Canmore and Lake Louise — and amid a persistently tight labour market, many are working harder to convince job seekers to apply and to stick around. 

“Our key message is to be competitive,” said Michel Dufresne, director of the Job Resource Centre for Banff and Canmore, who’s telling employers to raise wages and to give their staff enough time off to enjoy living in the mountain community. 

“These are things that have happened in other industries, but it doesn’t happen enough in the hospitality sector.”

But Dufresne said that’s starting to change. 

Michel Dufresne is director of the Job Resource Centre for Banff and Canmore.
Michel Dufresne is director of the Job Resource Centre for Banff and Canmore. He’s noticed employers are more open to hearing that if they don’t pay enough, they likely won’t be able to recruit the staff they need. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

He’s noticed wages are going up for positions posted through the job centre, and employers are more open to hearing that if they don’t pay enough, they likely won’t be able to recruit the staff they need.

“Wages are not going to double overnight but certainly it’s getting better,” he said. 

Recruiting staff has always been a challenge in mountain communities, but lately it’s been particularly tough. 

The pandemic forced workers in town from Eastern Canada, Quebec, Europe and Australia to head home, Dufresne said, and as restrictions have lifted they haven’t yet returned in full force. Last year, that left many employers running with about two thirds of their typical staffing complement.

Servers are pictured at a Banff Centre event in 2019.
Servers are pictured at a Banff Centre event in 2019. Last year, many employers were running with about two thirds of their typical staffing complement. (Jessica Wittman/Banff Centre)

At the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, communications director Casey Peirce says the pandemic has made it particularly difficult to recruit people for hospitality jobs, such as in housekeeping and dining. 

“We have actually increased wages to be very competitive, and in order to attract candidates and also to retain employees once we have them,” said Peirce. 

For example, the posted wage for a dishwasher at the Banff Centre has risen from $16.31 per hour in November 2021, to between $17.50 and $18.25 an hour this year, according to data from the Job Resource Centre.

Wages aren’t the only strategy, Peirce said. The Banff Centre offers other benefits ranging from staff housing to discounts on gym memberships, airport parking and car rentals. 

“We’re always looking for ways to make our staff life easier and better,” she said. 

Parks Canada launches hiring campaign

Even Parks Canada is getting creative to recruit staff after struggling with recruitment last year, said Jed Cochrane, a visitor experience manager. 

“In some places last summer we were 15-per-cent unstaffed,” said Cochrane. “It’s a fairly sizeable number of people that were unable to find for some of our key jobs, like campgrounds and janitorial and those sorts of things.”

At one point last summer, Cochrane said the shortage forced the Lake Louise visitor centre to close for several days to make staff available to clean facilities. 

“That’s of course something we want to avoid for this summer, so we’re trying really hard to recruit as many people as we can,” said Cochrane. 

For the first time, Parks Canada has rolled out a national hiring campaign to fill entry-level positions for the upcoming summer. 

On YouTube and social media, marketing videos titled “What is an entry level job?” and “Find your dream job” show sweeping shots of national parks and historic sites, and Parks Canada staffers commuting to work via bike, skiing downhill and laughing with their green-shirted colleagues. 

The government agency has also launched a new youth and student summer job portal to make it easier to apply for jobs. Applicants can apply “in as little as 15 minutes,” the agency said, by uploading a resume and selecting up to 10 job types and five work locations they’re interested in. 

“The national inventory system makes applying to entry-level Parks Canada jobs easier, removing barriers that may have dissuaded applicants in the past,” the agency said in a statement.

So far the inventory already has over 7,100 candidates, the agency said. 

While hiring remains a challenge, Dufresne said he’s cautiously optimistic about the upcoming season. Already, he’s seeing an uptick in applicants compared to this time last year, though he warns employers can’t get complacent. 

“Do everything you can to attract employees to your business,” he said, whether that’s raising wages and benefits, or offering bonuses for workers who recruit other staff. 

“All that stuff … it works.” 

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