As B.C.’s economy booms, hospitality staff are in short supply

Tourism Status Report: Labour. As B.C.'s economy booms, hospitality staff are in short supply

Part one of the BCBusiness 2018 Tourism Status Report checks in on the labour force

If you’re greeted by a concierge with an Irish lilt when checking into a B.C. hotel, it may be thanks to Christine Willow. Last spring, Willow, partner at Chemistry Consulting Group and GT Hiring Solutions in Victoria, visited Irish colleges on behalf of BC Hotel Association members struggling with seasonal employment challenges. One reason the HR firm chose Ireland is that its citizens qualify for a one-year International Experience Canada visa, which allows employers to bring in post-secondary students as part of their co-op work placement or post-graduates to get international experience. 

Ingrid Jarrett, GM and VP business development at the Watermark Beach Resort in Osoyoos, also goes abroad in search of staff. Last November, she travelled to Australia, where she met with universities to develop internship programs. “My restaurant was closed 50 percent of the time last summer,” laments Jarrett, who recruits from European hotel schools as well. “I had nobody to work.” 

A labour market analysis by go2HR, the tourism industry’s human resource organization, projects more than 100,000 tourism and hospitality-related job openings across the province between 2012 and 2020, and an estimated shortfall of about 14,000 workers to fill them. Looking further ahead, the Tourism HR Canada (CTHRC) estimates that the gap between labour supply and demand could be 228,479 jobs by 2030.

A 2016 economic impact study on B.C.’s tourism labour shortage commissioned by go2HR found that the thirst for workers began outstripping supply in 2013-14. “It’s really when the economy started taking off again,” Christine Willow explains. “My personal view is when you get to 4- or 5-percent unemployment, you’re at pretty well full employment, and so competition gets much stiffer.”

The report, prepared by Grant Thornton LLP in Vancouver and Econometric Research Ltd., based in Hamilton, Ontario, reveals how labour constraints are affecting tourism operations. Just over 50 percent of the employers surveyed said they couldn’t hire all the people they needed to function at full capacity and/or expand their business in 2014. As a result, roughly half lost revenue and more than 11 percent considered closing shop. 

The most commonly cited implications of the inability to hire enough employees were: 

Most of the unfilled positions were lower-skilled (56.6 percent), with 30.7 percent higher-skilled and 12.6 percent management. Although tourism includes senior positions right up to the CEO level, the industry competes with construction, IT and other sectors for the young workers who traditionally fill entry-level jobs, notes Chemistry Consulting’s Willow. 

And demand for workers isn’t limited to B.C. Also looking for tourism employees are Australia, Belgium, Switzerland and the U.S., “countries that you wouldn’t even think would possibly have that shortage,” Willow says. “So competition is fierce, I would say, worldwide for hospitality and culinary staff.”