Alberta tourist towns grapple with staff shortages as restrictions ease

Even with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in Alberta and abroad, tourist towns across the province are struggling to attract international workers.

The Job Resource Centre, which operates in Banff and Canmore, is posting ads and “getting no response”, said its manager, Michel Dufresne.

Before March 2020, on a good day, the job center could see 50 to 100 clients, Dufresne said. But now a good day is about 10 people.

Hotels, retail businesses, restaurants, tourist sites and ski resorts in towns like Banff and Canmore rely heavily on foreign workers, he said, and before the pandemic they made up almost half. of their workforce.

He said members of these types of organizations are planning for the summer – when huge volumes of tourists arrive – and are worried.

“What we used to call a staff shortage that’s common here in Banff and Canmore… right now it’s not a shortage anymore, it’s a drought. It’s a shortage staff,” he said.

“I keep saying it’s gonna get better, it’s gonna get better. But I’ve been saying it for six months now.”

Dufresne said the job center starts getting more responses when students finish college around the end of April.

“People would arrive in May. But what’s happening is we’re not getting those requests that we used to get.”

He said it’s possible the shortage is caused, in part, by the slow processing of applications for international workers.

CBC News recently obtained data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada that shows a backlog of hundreds of thousands applications for temporary residence.

It can take 12 to 18 months for a foreign worker to arrive in the country after being screened by an employer, said Trevor Long, president of the Banff and Lake Louise Hospitality Association and manager of the Rimrock Resort Hotel.

“We need this process to be accelerated,” he said.

Long said there are several affordable housing projects underway in Banff, but more are needed as this is a critical part of the staffing shortage.

“Certainly the accommodations in Banff are sometimes not ideal,” he told the Calgary Eyeopener.

He also said additional incentives — like subsidized housing, subsidized or free on-site meals, ski passes, free access to local public transportation and job longevity incentives — could attract workers. .

“We desperately need to fill our workforce immediately. We are coming out of the pandemic calling it the moment of economic recovery. But if we don’t have the staff, we will struggle to recover.”