Nearly 400 job vacancies remain unfilled
Every year businesses struggle to attract and retain employees during the busy summer season, but this year it appears things have only gotten worse.
As of June 9 there were 380 jobs available in Jasper, more than double the number of jobs posted this time last year, according to Ginette Marcoux, executive director for the Jasper Employment and Education Centre (formerly JALC).
Making matters worse she said not only are there more job vacancies this year, but there are also appear to be fewer people looking for work.
“We’re already seeing managers making beds in hotels, that usually doesn’t happen until August. The fact that we’re seeing that in June is a telling story,” said Marcoux.
She said it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why there are fewer people looking for work, but pointed to a number of factors including the lack of housing, changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program and fewer university students coming to Jasper.
“Only about 40 per cent of our job postings have accommodation,” said Marcoux. “That paralyzes us.”
According to the list of jobs that are available nearly a quarter of them are related to working in a kitchen.
To try and fill the positions Marcoux said she’s heard anecdotally that some restaurants in town have begun poaching employees from other restaurants by offering them better wages.
“There’s a huge competition in wages going on right now in Jasper so I suspect we’re going to see a lot of job hopping,” said Marcoux.
Pattie Pavlov, manager for the Jasper Park Chamber of Commerce, said she’s heard similar stories and described the current labour shortage in town as a “job seekers market.”
“You can basically name your price, which is not necessarily a fair and honest system,” said Pavlov.
Marcoux also pointed to changes to the TFW program as a contributing factor to this year’s competitive labour market.
In 2014 the federal government changed the rules after media reports indicated fast food restaurants were misusing the program. As a result the number of temporary workers plummeted by 76 per cent in Alberta from 2013 to 2015.
The changes also specifically stated that employers in the low-wage service sector are not allowed to access the TFW program if the regional unemployment rate is six per cent or higher.
Currently the unemployment rate in this economic region is 6.9 per cent, according to Statistics Canada.
The problem is the labour force survey that the TFW program uses to evaluate whether a business in Jasper can hire temporary foreign workers, also known as a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA), takes into consideration two vastly different economic regions of the province that stretches from Canmore to Peace River.
On one hand communities like Jasper, Banff and Lake Louise are struggling to attract and retain enough employees to support their tourism-based economies, while on the other hand communities such as Whitecourt, Peace River and Grande Prairie rely heavily on the oil and gas sector, which has been hit hard in recent years pushing the regional unemployment rate up.
As a result many hotels in town have either had their LMIA rejected or simply avoided applying for TFWs altogether.
The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge was one of those hotels.
“We didn’t proceed with an application this year,” said Jennifer Melanson, director of human resources for JPL. “We were advised by Service Canada that our application would be denied if we sent it in.”
Despite being unable to hire any TFWs this year she said JPL hasn’t had any issues attracting enough staff.
“We were lucky this summer and have some great staff, but I do think it’s something that needs to be looked at.”
Marcoux said she estimates the actual unemployment rate in Jasper is closer to three per cent and urged people to contact their local MP and MLA to voice their concern.
“The temporary foreign worker is not an option for employers this summer,” said Marcoux. “I think we need to be proactive as a community and we actually need to push for the remapping of our region.”
Another trend that Marcoux has noticed is a drop in the number of university students applying for jobs in Jasper.
“I’ve been in the business for over 20 years now and what I’ve seen is less and less employers interested in university students,” said Marcoux.
In the past she said university students used to come to Jasper in droves to work for the summer, but many students tend to leave in mid-August at the height of tourism season leaving their employers high and dry.
As a result employers appear to be avoiding hiring university students all together.
For Melanson, university students still make up an important part of JPL’s labour force, however she said with the shoulder season remaining busy until Thanksgiving a lot of students schedules don’t fit.
“Before we hire university students we focus primarily on hospitality schools because many of them have a more flexible school year and they don’t bring their students back until October, which works so much better with the industry,” said Melanson.