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Hospitality sector optimistic with labour shortage in the Bow Valley worked out

Workers are returning to the Bow Valley in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, filling jobs and hanging on to positions that come with housing. 

The Job Resource Centre’s fall labour market review highlights how the last six months looked for employees and employers in the Bow Valley; with signs that things have moved from rocky to recovery. 

The Bow Valley in southwestern Alberta includes Banff, Canmore and Kananaskis, communities whose economies rely heavily on tourism.

Back in 2022 the hospitality sector was scrambling to fill positions across the board and the situation was considered dire.

At that time, even if workers were eager and qualified, there were no free rooms to settle into. Finding a job wasn’t the hard part, it was housing.

Employers were 20 to 25 per cent short staffed, which lead to changes in operating hours and sometimes temporary closures. 

“I think we’ve moved the needle for sure compared to the state that we are in at that point,” said Wanda Bogdane, executive director of the Banff & Lake Louise Hospitality Association.

“I think that’s been a combination of factors. There has been some productive immigration and foreign talent streams and there’s been a return of our domestic workforce from across the country.” 

Between February and July 2023 there were fewer job ads placed with the resource centre — a 21 per cent decrease compared to the same period in 2022.

Career coach Reinira Lankhuijzen said that’s because jobs are being filled faster, so they aren’t needing to repost the same positions over and over again to attract candidates. 

“It definitely seems like things have shifted,” Lankhuijzen said. “People are coming to the Bow Valley and successfully able to find work here.”

This reflects what the Banff & Lake Louise Hospitality Association has seen. Things are stable, but Bogdane said there’s been some erosion.

Experienced workers in culinary, trade and management positions migrated to stable industries during the pandemic outside of the hospitality industry; those skilled workers haven’t returned.

“There’s still a feeling of significant losses from the seasoned talent that moved on to other industries,” Bogdane said.

“What we saw previously was very low turnover and very low hiring needs at the management level for example.” 

A help wanted sign is pictured Banff, Alta. as pedestrians look on.
A help wanted sign is pictured Banff, Alta. as pedestrians look on. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Housing is a coveted job perk, and employers who offer staff accommodation are seeing less turnover, Lankhuijzen said.

This has led to a drop in job postings that include housing, but she said employees are able to rise to that challenge this time around. 

“We are hearing from our job seekers that, you know, they are still successful … in finding a rental rate or a shared room in a house or yeah, but it’s definitely more challenging.”

Some employers, Lankhuijzen said, are saving accommodations for the positions that don’t attract as many applications. 

“Like the back of house positions, culinary and those more supportive roles like housekeeping,” Lankhuijzen said.  

The hospitality association is optimistic the labour market will remain stable into 2024. Bogdane said part of that could be thanks to housing pressures improving in the Bow Valley. But there’s still work ahead. 

Employers are investing in new staff housing stock, and Bogdane commends the federal government for launching its Housing Accelerator Fund, which municipalities like Banff are already eyeing.

“The impact that housing has on the ability to attract and retain skilled talent in the Rockies is very relevant today,” Bogdane said. 

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