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Staffing shortage saps otherwise strong economy, says panel

Whitehorse businesses are suffering from the same problem.Staffing.“This staffing crisis is a major issue in Alberta, and we’re…

Whitehorse businesses are suffering from the same problem.


“This staffing crisis is a major issue in Alberta, and we’re seeing it from coast to coast to coast,” said Wendy Taylor, general manager of Whitehorse Motors and spokeswoman for the Hougen Group of Companies, during Tuesday’s Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

There are things a business can do to retain its employees, Taylor told about 85 businesspeople, who paid $25 a plate to attend the chamber luncheon at the Yukon Inn.

Employers can find the right person for a job, not necessarily the first person to offer a resume, although it’s hard to find even that, she said.

They can create a training program that does not involve new employees training even newer employees, because expertise is needed, she said.

Third — and perhaps most importantly — businesses can increase employee paycheques, said Taylor.

“Start investing money, and accept smaller revenues, for the time being at least,” said Taylor.

“We’re all really frustrated with the staffing issue, but I prefer this problem to the one we’ve had for the last 10 years, which was, ‘Where is the economy and how can we create it?’”

Taylor was on a panel with former Yukon Chamber of Mines president Scott Casselman and Trevor Harding, of the Northern Vision Development group.

The Yukon needs to send a strong message to Outside investors that is open for business and looking for partnerships, said Harding, the former Yukon minister of Economic Development under the New Democrat government of Piers McDonald in the late 1990s.

“Frankly, seeing is believing,” said Harding.

“Bring people here. Take them fishing. Go to Skagway.”

And get communities wired in to the wider world, he said.

Harding applauded recent technological developments that will allow Blackberry communication devices to operate within Whitehorse.

“Big commercial groups hate not being connected.”

In the resource extraction sector, mining is booming, said Casselman.

The Minto copper mine is on schedule to begin production next year, and five other projects in the territory are closing in, he said.

“We’re being run off our feet.

“Virtually every commodity is sky-high right now.

“And everybody is rushing to meet their targets.”

There aren’t enough helicopters in the territory to meet the demands of the mining sector, said Casselman.

“I haven’t seen that before, where there is not enough equipment or people to do the work.”

The Yukon has become more attractive to mining investment over the past two years because of advances in land claim settlements with Yukon First Nations and the new Yukon Environmental and Socioeconomic Assessment Act, he said.

“We still need to get that next permit issued for the next application that comes in.

“Industry needs proof.”

The business crowd wanted to know what the Yukon government’s role in the economy should be.

“Government is so present that you can’t do business without some sort of facilitation,” said Patti Balsillie, chair of the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon.

That’s because the territorial government has a “facilitation” roll to play in the economy, the panelists agreed.

“Government is absolutely monstrous in this economy,” said Harding.

“The Yukon budget is $300 million larger than when (the NDP) were in office,” he said.

“The entire GDP of the Faro mine has been replaced by government spending.

“There doesn’t need to be direct investment, but the government does need to facilitate.

“Economy is largely driven by government here, let’s face that fact.

“It is important for them to play a senior role.”