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Labour retention report estimates Canmore short 600-650 employees

“Housing is our key challenge in retention and attraction of labour force.”
Canmore Civic Centre in winter 4
The Canmore Civic Centre. RMO FILE PHOTO

CANMORE – A new report is estimating Canmore has a labour deficit of 600-650 employees in the mountain community.

The Labour Market Recruitment and Retention Strategy update provided eight areas of focus for potential ways to address the labour shortages faced in the community, but emphasized housing and cost of living are the biggest roadblocks.

“Housing is our key challenge in retention and attraction of labour force,” said Eleanor Miclette, the Town’s manager of economic development.

The 114-page retention strategy plan, which was approved for planning purposes by council, identified areas of focus in training, hiring, workplace culture and social infrastructure of key methods to keep staff.

In addition to the areas of focus, each one had 65 recommendations to aid in retaining staff such as providing adequate training, having a good workplace culture and assisting in housing to mitigate a steady flow of people leaving employers.

The plan offers resources that businesses can access such as the Job Resource Centre, the Canada Alberta Job Grant Program, the Workplace Inclusion Charter as well as establishing a dedicated webpage for training for all employers to access, creating greater awareness of training programs and better understanding the training needs in Canmore.

Some of the recommendations also encouraged businesses to engage job seekers outside of Canmore, work with other businesses on recruitment campaigns, look at accessing immigration options, engage with all levels of government, accept anonymous feedback from employees to gain insight on needs and create partnerships with childcare providers.

Financially, the recommendations encourage businesses to offer options that help decrease the cost of living, maintain a centralized inventory of staff housing, increase the supply of housing and secondary suites, and streamline permitting timelines that could lead to housing project delays.

“Canmore’s labour market is shaped by complex challenges, ranging from localized matters to large structural considerations,” stated the retention strategy. “Tackling them will take a strategic, collaborative effort involving the Town of Canmore and inviting local businesses and organizations to be part of solutions.”

The Edmonton-based Ballad Group Ltd. developed the strategy, while the steering committee included Bow Valley Builders and Developers Association, Bow Valley Chamber of Commerce, The Job Resource Centre, Downtown Canmore BIA, the province, Tourism Canmore Kananaskis and Town staff.

Interviews were done with 36 stakeholders last May and June and employer and workforce surveys were done last April to June, which included 167 employer participants and 399 workforce respondents.

There were 25 in-depth interviews and eight interviews with Town representatives. Engagement took place between April and June, 2023.

Of the participating individuals and businesses, roughly half were in the healthcare and social assistance sector, 38.5 per cent were in retail, 29 per cent were in construction and 27.5 per cent were in the accommodation and food services industry.

Though labour shortages took place across the country during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism areas were hit especially hard due to international workers being unavailable and a shortage of housing.

The plan found in the second quarter, when the national job vacancy rate was 5.9 per cent, it was 8.3 per cent in Canmore. The estimated vacancy rate at the start of 2023 was 11.2 per cent, with accommodation, food services and retail being significantly impacted.

“Canmore has seen growing challenges related to labour within the business community that supersede the pre-pandemic labour pressures identified in 2019,” according to the strategy plan. “Although labour problems are not unique to Canmore, there are compounding issues that impact the ability to attract employees that are unrelated to the types of jobs offered within the community.

“They include elements such as housing, affordability, seasonality of work, and limited access to a temporary foreign labour force. These challenges have resulted in some businesses reducing their hours of operations, closing their doors for multiple days each week, limiting their contracts, and limiting available inventory and services to ensure that they can retain the staff and remain operational with the limited resources, including workforce, available to them.”

Council set up the business recovery taskforce in 2020 to look at recommendations to support a return to work and for businesses to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The task force found recruiting and retention strategies were vital to address labour pressure and looked at ways to address staffing shortages.

The project received $50,000 in late 2022 from the former Jobs, Economy and Northern Development ministry, with the remainder of the $100,000 budget coming from the Town’s economic development reserve.

Post-pandemic, Canmore and tourism have rebounded but home and rental prices have significantly increased with the median home being about $1.2 million, per the plan. The plan also notes under existing policies, a job vacancy rate of about 6.5 per cent is likely to be normal.

Canmore has the highest median individual income at $50,400 when compared to other tourism-based communities such as Jasper, Banff, Squamish, Whistler and Revelstoke, but it’s also associated with the “community’s elevated cost of living” that has a living wage 38.8 per cent higher than Revelstoke.

The plan notes, however, mitigation strategies for labour shortages can be limited, leaving a reduction in business hours or staff and owners working longer.

“Although working more hours provides a short-term solution, it is unlikely to be conducive to effective operations over a sustained period,” stated the plan.

It further stated “salary offerings appear to be a determining factor” for labour shortages. The employers survey showing the bulk of jobs paid $16 to $20 an hour. It highlighted only 7.6 per cent of employers surveyed offered positions with salaries of more than $30 an hour, but 49.9 per cent of employees asked expected a salary of at least $30 an hour.

“Unsurprisingly, lower-paying positions are unlikely to attract the same number of applications as higher-paying ones; however, even higher-paying positions (i.e., over $30 per hour) seem to have difficulties filling vacancies,” according to the plan.

With all employment sectors still struggling in the community, Miclette said it’s important to have all organizations working together in some capacity to address the issue.

“It’s a partnership. It’s collaborative,” Miclette said. “It’s not just on the Town to solve … so that business entities support businesses itself and other levels of government and it will take a partnership to address the challenges. It’s not a quick fix.”


  • Training
    • Adequate and continuous training can help retain workforce
  • Hiring
    • Having good hiring practices can help fill positions quickly
  • Sourcing skills from external markets
    • Immigration is important to address the community’s labour needs
  • Workplace culture
    • A strong culture and bring a sense of community and belonging
  • Productivity and enhancing technology
    • Utilizing right technology can help with efficiency
  • Social infrastructure
    • A good social availability in the community can keep people in a location
  • Cost of living
    • The high costs of Canmore can impact whether people choose to leave or stay
  • Housing
    • Appropriate housing can help keep workers in the long-term
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