Employment Insurance beneficiaries in the Fraser Valley

Labour challenges gripping businesses

Businesspeople discuss the labour market in Hope and the challenges it faces.

Hope’s labour market fears the cold.

Around this time of the year, business in Hope slows down as the weather gets wet, days get shorter and tourism numbers shrink.

Data provided by AdvantageHOPE shows how the labour market shifts from summer to winter.

According to data based on their Feb. 25 business walk, during summertime, 14 per cent of businesses had over 10 full-time employees, 22 per cent had five to ten and 64 per cent had less than five. AdvantageHOPE expects to publish updated data from their recent business walk next month.

During the winter, the numbers change to 11, 15 and 74 per cent respectively. Notably, most businesses are owner-operator.

Businesses have also told them that the seasonality of business is the biggest problem they face, with 41 per cent of respondents highlighting that as a problem.

This problem of seasonality affects restaurants significantly, as Hiro Takeda, owner of 293 Wallace Restaurant, has experienced in his three-and-a-half years in Hope.

This year, Takeda noted that he has an especially hard time finding employees, and he does not know why.

More generally, Takeda’s biggest challenge comes from hiring willing cooks to prepare his high-class dishes. He does have problems hiring unskilled labour for work such as serving, but said that problem is less severe.

Takeda has taken steps to encourage people to join. Cooks will receive training from the ground-up. Interns from cooking school are welcome. A dishwasher got promoted into a managerial position in three-and-a-half years.

“We’ve tried to advertise that we’re teaching life skills as well, so it’s more of an investment into our staff towards their future, whatever it may be,” said Takeda.

Takeda also finds that as a result of the seasonality of work, he has challenges attracting Vancouverites to move here despite his wages being competitive.

“We bite the bullet a little bit and try to provide hours for our staff during the winter, but definitely hours go down in the winter,” said Takeda, who suggests to his staff to save up during the peak months.

Finding line cooks definitely poses the highest challenge for Takeda. The job requires a willingness to toil and deal with pressure. The job becomes increasingly harder as someone ages into their 30s and beyond, said Takeda.

The need for young staff then leads to another problem. Takeda is essentially fighting against a North American trend where millennials want to live an urban, high-density, car-free life.

“It seems like the general consensus of most of the young people here is they want to get out of town, they don’t necessarily want to stay here and invest into here,” said Takeda.

Even Premier Christy Clark noticed this. When she visited Hope in September, she mentioned that she wants to improve post-secondary education in Hope as a means to retain younger residents.

“Because often when they leave, they don’t come back,” she said.

Stephen Yeung, the owner of McDonald’s, has some insight as to why.

“There are some jobs available to Chilliwack, like working in Walmart, or working in Winners, things like that. It’s less stress,” said Yeung. “When people find something more sustainable, and stable outside of the community, they won’t be able to come back to Hope.”

However, David Mawhinney, the owner of Silver Chalice Pub, noted that it could be worse.

Mawhinney will have operated the pub for about one year come next month. He noted that he had a much easier time finding “great local employees” since they started.

“We have had better results looking for local experienced and inexperienced people here in Hope then our previous location, Agassiz,” said Mawhinney. “Please note the [Harrison Hot Springs Resort & Spa] took a lot of the service industry employees in the Agassiz area.”

As his business is new, he cautions that he does not have other times to compare it to.

Near Takeda’s restaurant, at the Blue Moose Coffee House, veteran businessman Wes Bergmann noted that labour challenges have not affected him as much, and credits his successes to patience, luck and culture building.

“For the most part, I’ve been very, very lucky. I’ve never been in a super bind,” said Bergmann. “There’s lulls when there isn’t the applications coming in, but I found over the years…, you just have to be patient rather than panicking and start hiring recklessly.”

Just like Takeda, Bergmann incentivizes staff to climb the career ladder.

“You train them, and you create an excitement around your latte art,” said Bergmann. “So you kind of hang it in front — a carrot.

“You work closely with them as people, not as an expense.”

While seasonality does pose problems, it also bears certain unexpected benefits. Bergmann mentioned that he has a barista, Jessica Dyble, who enjoys travelling.

“She knows that if she works at the Blue Moose that if she’s going to go take February, March and April off to travel that she can come back and find the rhythm to keep coming back to the Blue Moose,” said Bergmann. “These girls go travel, or guys go travel, they’re just richer people [and] personalities.”

Bergmann also revealed that there is talk about creating more fluid employment.

He gave the example of how staff that service tourists in summer could be transferred to Manning Park to service the needs of the ski season. This idea is still in its infancy.

As for Takeda’s staff, they can count their blessings too. His severe shortfall of labour this year means that this winter, their staff are more likely to keep their jobs full-time.

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