Staff shortfall hobbles territory

A shortage of workers is hurting businesses throughout the territory. Strapped for staff, several hotel owners in Dawson had to multi-task to keep…

A shortage of workers is hurting businesses throughout the territory.

Strapped for staff, several hotel owners in Dawson had to multi-task to keep afloat this summer.

With shirtsleeves rolled up, co-owner of the Eldorado Hotel, Karen Jenkins cleaned rooms, washed dishes, bussed tables and manned the cash.

Luckily, she was able to round up some friends who helped with the housekeeping.

“I have some very good friends,” said Jenkins. “And we managed to get the job done.”

But Jenkins heard that several other Dawson hotels had to stop booking rooms, because they couldn’t get them all cleaned.

“Thank God that tourism was down this summer,” said Aurora Inn assistant manager Eva Schmid.

“Because we couldn’t have handled bigger masses.”

The Dawson Westmark actually stopped taking walk-in reservations by mid-August.

“We didn’t have room attendants to clean the rooms,” said general manager Linda Briemon.

“And we had to honour the reservations we’d taken, so it helped us to get through the day if we didn’t take walk-ins.”

Whitehorse is feeling a similar crunch.

Wal-Mart is short staffed and a few trucks behind, said its front-end manager Kevin Olson.

“If 30 people walked in, we’d certainly take them all,” he said Tuesday.

“And that’s a good chunk of people.

“We could certainly use a lot more vests floating around.”

Superstore is facing similar issues, added Olson.

Canadian Tire is short 16 staff and, when its new store opens after Christmas, it will need an additional 40 workers.

Hopefully the new facility will attract some workers, said owner Dan Charlebois.

But this could create problems for other businesses.

“Wages are not the issue,” he said.

“There are no people to hire.”

Charlebois has been driving the forklift all summer, unloading trucks. And on Wednesday he’s unloading six more trucks at the new store.

“If I had more staff, I probably wouldn’t be doing that,” he said.

“I know Dean (Terry, the owner of Tim Horton’s) is spending more and more time behind the counter,” added Charlebois.

The biggest problem is that people don’t realize how nice it is living in Whitehorse, he said.

“People think it’s dark for six months and snow for the other six.”

They don’t realize how beautiful Whitehorse is, that there are no lineups at the hospital and that taxes are low, he added.

“So we need to design some sort of tourism ad to get workers up here.”

Immigration is another huge issue, said Charlebois.

“We need to get the federal government more open to having people immigrate,” said Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell.

 “And then we need programs to encourage them to come to Yukon where we have jobs for them,” he said.

The News called the Yukon Party, the New Democrats and the Liberals to ask how the three parties will address the staff shortage.

Only the Liberals responded by press time.

“We’re used to complaining about unemployment and now we’re complaining about lack of labour,” said Mitchell on Monday.

“I’ve heard this from everybody, from the banks to retail businesses, franchise businesses, hardware etc..

“I heard it yesterday at the door from someone in a management position at a local major business.

“And I heard it from the owners of two of the larger franchises, that they’re really struggling.”

The worker shortage is not Yukon specific, he said.

“We have to recognize it’s a competitive environment out there.”

There are very high-paying jobs in mining, oil and gas, and in Alberta’s tar sands that pull people away from the territory, he said.

“And, yet, they have a shortage there as well.”

Mitchell wants to work with Yukon College to establish training programs in the territory to strengthen the workforce and make higher paying jobs more accessible.

“Because if people go Outside to take their training, there’s a good chance they’re not coming back,” he said.

“We either have to train them locally, or we have to facilitate their training outside in such a way that there’s an incentive for them to come back.”

The Liberals are also proposing the territory pay for training Outside, but will only reimburse the training if the candidates return to the Yukon to work for a certain length of time.

“Then there’s an incentive to come back,” said Mitchell.

“I was talking to a constituent last week with a computer programming-development business, and he can’t find programmers,” said Mitchell.

“And I heard the same thing from someone at Northwestel.”

The big companies and the small ones are all having the same trouble, he said.

“But in a smaller company, if you can’t come up with enough systems and program people, then you can’t take the contracts.”

Mitchell also spoke to the owner of one of the food franchises, who had just spent six hours that morning as a baker.

“And it’s not that he’s too proud to do it,” said Mitchell.

“But he’s supposed to be able to hire people to do the baking, ‘cause he has other responsibilities.

“It’s a big problem.”

Premier Dennis Fentie called the labour shortage “ a major and immediate challenge,” on CBC’s Lunch Break Tuesday.

To resolve the problem, he suggested moving more seniors, stay-at-home parents and students into the work force.

“We need to remove the pensioners’ disincentive,” said Fentie.

“And make improvements to the day-care system.”

He also suggested tweaking federal immigration policies.