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Fall labour market review highlights worker shortage in Bow Valley

“We have seen a big increase in people who worked in the service sector, be it hotels, restaurants, retail, who had time to reflect on their work and they’re calling us and saying they want to work with a career coach to look at their options."

BOW VALLEY – The latest fall labour market review is showing the demand has far outweighed supply when it comes to workers in the past six months in the Bow Valley.

The Job Resource Centre’s bi-annual review emphasized the staff shortages being felt by employers across the region between February and July this year.

The change is a significant reverse from the same time period in 2020 – at the height of the first COVID-19 lockdown – when employment in the region was largely devastated due to the pandemic.

“Things are not changing. It started last winter and we’ve had quarter after quarter of staff shortages, combined with high unemployment,” said Michel Dufresne, director of the Job Resource Centre in Banff and Canmore.

The Job Resource Centre is based in both Banff and Canmore to help Bow Valley employers and employees find work in the region. It offers workshops and webinars as well as human resources assistance.

Valley employers are used to the transient nature of the workforce, which is predominantly serviced-related due to the mostly tourism-based economies in the area.

According to the review – which covers the previous six months of the spring and summer – there wasn’t one contributing factor to the staff shortage.

However, lockdowns and international borders being closed have hampered the foreign workers arriving locally from countries such as Australia and European and Asian nations.

The discouragement of inter-provincial travel has also impacted the flow of workers from Quebec, Ontario and the Maritimes, which have all been strong resources when it comes to seasonal workers.

“We don’t get a high volume of workers from Alberta, Saskatchewan or B.C. In British Columbia, they have their own mountains, their own ski resorts and own golf courses,” Dufresne said. “Alberta has had a really strong economy in the oil and gas sector, so Canmore and Banff have never been the favourite destination for workers from those provinces.”

The combination of public health restrictions, limited international travel and COVID-19 recovery benefits for workers led to a “perfect storm,” Dufresne said of the current situation for employers.

The review stated the unemployment rate in the Banff-Jasper-Rocky Mountain House region in July was 8.2 per cent compared to 14.4 per cent in July 2020.

Though people receiving government supports may be a factor, the review emphasized how the changing public health guidelines led to reduced store capacities, the laying off of staff and many choosing to not return when guidelines loosened.

For those who did return, the review noted they were not always guaranteed full-time hours, leading to difficulties in planning for childcare, and also having more angry customers that led to an increase to an employee's stress.

The review also noted the resource centre’s career coaches helping 80 per cent of their clients look for new careers and the remaining 20 per cent looking for work. In 2020, the numbers were the opposite.

“We have seen a big increase in people who worked in the service sector, be it hotels, restaurants, retail, who had time to reflect on their work and they’re calling us and saying they want to work with a career coach to look at their options,” Dufresne said.

The centre had 2,009 job requests for a total of 5,244 positions between February and July from 380 businesses in the Bow Valley. Of those, 39 per cent came with staff housing, with 50 per cent of jobs in Banff supplying housing and only 21 per cent in Canmore.

The bulk of the postings were for the food and beverage industry as 19.2 per cent were for a kitchen job and 14.3 per cent were for front-of-house. A total of 16 per cent came in the trades and labour field, while 14 per cent were for housekeeping and cleaning.

The average wage of the posted jobs slightly declined from 2020 to $19.11 an hour compared to $19.14 an hour one year ago.

But while the salary rates have largely stagnated, the housing rental prices have climbed.

A one-bedroom place in Canmore averages about $1,550 and in Banff it is $1,489. In Canmore, a two-bedroom is roughly $2,036 and $1,865, while a bachelor or studio unit in Canmore is averaging about $1,111 and $1,081 in Banff.

The Alberta Living Wage Network released a report in October that showed the living wage for Canmore is $37.40 an hour for each parent in a two-parent, two-child household.

For a single adult, the Town of Canmore website lists a person would need about $23.70 an hour to sustain a modest standard of living.

Dufresne said it is promising to see some international borders somewhat reopening and is hopeful for an improvement, but it all factors on the pandemic ending.

“We might see a change starting in January. We have a second period of recruitment with the ski resorts, so hopefully we have a better supply of workers at that time. It’s very limited right now.”