BANFF – The Bow Valley’s labour crunch appears to be easing a little and the average wage is slightly up, but fewer jobs come with the major perk of staff housing.
According to the Bow Valley Job Resource Centre’s fall labour market review, fewer ads for jobs were placed at the centre from February to July 2023 – 1,787 jobs from 369 different employers – marking a 21 per cent reduction compared to the same six-month period last year.
Reinira Lankhuijzen, a career coach with the Job Resource Centre, said the positions were being filled much faster than the previous year, negating the need to repeatedly repost the same job as employers desperately looked for workers.
“A lot of businesses were really, really busy and there was lots of hiring happening and people that were looking for work were generally able to find work,” said Lankhuijzen.
“We are definitely seeing a lot of people back from overseas, from Australia, Europe and even across Canada.”
Banff and Lake Louise Hospitality Association (BLLHA) found much the same.
Wanda Bogdane, the group’s executive director, said the workforce levels in Banff and Lake Louise have improved over the last year, noting employers saw more stabilization this summer compared to recent peak seasons coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said there is a strong return of international workers as well as jobseekers from across Canada “and that’s something that we expected was going to take some time.”
“We are still feeling the effects of the significant loss of experienced or senior talent that moved on to other industries when our businesses were forced to temporarily shutter during COVID,” Bogdane said.
“The current impact is felt most in the skilled component of our workforce, particularly in management, culinary and trades.
“That depth of experience, the longstanding skills that we lost during COVID, it’s going to take quite some time to build that back.”
Before the pandemic, Bogdane said managerial positions were the most stable part of the workforce.
“We didn't see a lot of management level positions coming up for offer. It was very competitive,” she said.
“When something did open up, it was usually a whole lot of jostling within the existing management pool because people were very stable within those roles and COVID completely destabilized that.”
While the labour shortage isn’t as harsh this year, Bogdane said businesses were still forced to modify operations due to labour availability.
“The No. 1 way businesses controlled their costs last year was modifying operations to align with labour availability,” she said.
In the Bow Valley, 36 per cent of job postings came with staff housing, marking a decrease from the previous year’s 42 per cent.
From February to July of this year, Banff's job listings had 44 per cent offering staff accommodation, while Canmore’s listings had 24 per cent.
Notably, there was a decrease in the offer for staff housing in Banff compared to the same time last year when 53 per cent of jobs had accommodation available.
“They’re not seeing the turnover that they generally see in their staff housing because there is so little else available for rent,” said Lankhuijzen.
“People aren’t leaving staff housing and so when they post positions, they aren't always able to offer housing with the position because their housing is full.
“That’s definitely been a perk, that people that are offering staff housing are able to actually retain their staff a lot more than they have in the past.”
The challenges with housing are long-standing, but the business community has signalled its intent to step up and Banff town council is looking at several policy initiatives to encourage more construction of housing, including eliminating parking requirements for housing.
“The ultimate aim, of course, is to motivate the creation of more housing inventory,” said Bogdane, noting a key piece of that is Banff tapping into the federal housing accelerator fund – a $4 billion nationwide federal initiative aimed at driving housing construction across the country.
Meanwhile, the average wage in the Bow Valley, which is based on positions posted at the Job Resource Centre, was $21.82 per hour during the six-month period from January to July 2023. That is up from $20.42 per hour for the same time period last year.
While not a living wage in the valley, Lankhuijzen said the seven per cent increase in the average wage was welcome.
“It’s nice to see that the employers are recognizing that they need to increase wages to be able to attract and retain people and to make it more affordable for them,” she said. “Yeah, it’s still below the living wage and we definitely see people working multiple jobs to be able to make ends meet.
“They’re trying to reduce costs by living in shared accommodation and taking advantage of resources like the food rescue and we refer all of our clients to those community resources as well.”
When housing isn’t available, Lankhuijzen said some job seekers head on to explore other areas, especially if they are on a working holiday visa.
“Some people from across Canada, they might just have to make the decision to return home,” she said.
Bogdane said staff are the most valuable part of the local tourism industry, noting BLLHA is pleased to see an increased tracking in wages.
However, she said, additional investments made by employers such as a total compensation package or other innovative strategies to improve quality of life are not reflected in the labour market review.
“Some of those other contributions would include staff accommodation, seasonal bonuses, employee fitness programs, health benefits, staff meals, employer-led activities,” she said.
For example, Hostelling International Banff Alpine Centre started a Strava-based Amazing Race, loosely based on the TV series, for its workforce, offering a series of big and small challenges, such as hiking, throughout the summer season to help with quality of life.
Remi Lambeau, general manager of HI Banff Alpine Centre, said the series of challenges, which is based on a points system, culminate in a first place prize of a Sunshine seasons pass, valued at about $1,600, and other great prizes such as gear.
“We use it as like a retention tool, but also a tool to get staff together to push them to explore the national park, to kind of push them away from the nightlife and more into the park,” he said.
Lambeau said he believes this program, and other perks like staff bowling and canoeing, help retain staff.
“Last summer, we lost one staff due to just a visa expiring. Everybody else stayed on after the summer,” he said, noting there are about 30 staff, including managers, at the Banff hostel.
“This summer it’s a little less successful, but we still managed to retain like probably 60 per cent of our staff.”