Yukon Economic Development Minister Ranj Pillai announces a new nominee program, which will allow Yukon businesses to bring in staff from outside Canada if local employees can’t be found, during a press conference at Burnt Toast in Whitehorse on Sept. 26. The popular restaurant had to cut back its operating hours this summer due to a shortage of staff. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Pilot project aims to address gaps in Yukon’s nominee program

The new program will launch in January 2020

Employers in six Yukon communities who use the Yukon Nominee Program will have more flexibility under a pilot project the Yukon government is launching in January 2020.

Officials made the announcement at the Burnt Toast Cafe in downtown Whitehorse Sept. 26, highlighting it as a move to address the labor shortage being faced by businesses like the restaurant.

The nominee program allows businesses to bring in staff from outside the country if local employees can’t be found.

Yukon Economic Development Minister Ranj Pillai described Burnt Toast as “Ground Zero” for the challenges being faced by employers dealing with a labour shortage.

Burnt Toast owner Lee Willitt has no qualms when it comes to talking about the impact the tight labour market is having on her business as well as at the Cut Off Restaurant which she also co–owns with Shannon Corrado.

Burnt Toast cut back its operating hours in light of the challenges in finding staff.

The nominee program is not without its own challenges for employers.

Rules prevent employees under the current program from working more than one job and restrict what they can do on the job. A staffer hired under the nominee program to serve food cannot be called on for janitorial duties, for example.

As Pillai explained, the 50 workers who will be chosen to work under the new pilot project will have their work permit connected to a specific community rather than employer, thus allowing them to work for up to three employers in that community.

Carcross, Carmacks, Dawson City, Haines Junction, Watson Lake and Whitehorse will be the six communities for the program to start. Pillai said if the three-year pilot proves to be a success, it could move into other communities around the territory.

The selection of the six communities, he said, was based on concerns the department heard about the current nominee program.

“We have heard from employers across the territory about the need for more flexible options under the Yukon Nominee Program that are tailored to the realities in Yukon communities,” Pillai said. “This new approach will allow more immigrants to come work in Yukon, opening up new job opportunities and benefiting local businesses at a critical time when our economy is growing.”

Though it will be January before the program is launched, Pillai said the government was making the announcement now so that businesses can begin planning for the 2020 year.

The announcement was greeted with praise from those in the business community who were present.

Yukon Chamber of Commerce president Peter Turner called it a “made in the Yukon solution,” noting the shortage of workers is one of the biggest issues impacting the economy.

The chamber, he vowed, will work closely with the Department of Economic Development to prove the program a success.

Carmacks Hotel Ltd. owner Kendell Tricker said that the current nominee program has been beneficial in the past, but there are gaps.

Gaps are left when an employee under the nominee program can’t help fill in on other duties for a sick coworker or when a potential employee isn’t able to work at the hotel because they can’t have more than one job.

Tricker said she knows of some businesses that have closed their doors or cut their hours due to the challenges.

A more flexible program will help address these issues, she said.

“This is tailored to Yukon’s unique needs,” Tricker said.

Working behind the counter throughout the announcement, Willett appeared pleased with the news following the press conference.

“We’re excited,” she said.

It’s too early to say what it might mean for business down the road, but Willett said she is ready to start looking ahead to next year and considering what impact it might have on the restaurant.

Corrado was also on-hand for the announcement and also noted she’s pleased to see the change, which could eventually impact the Cut Off Restaurant as well if the pilot is successful and expands beyond the borders of the six communities.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

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