Willing workers wanted

Help wanted. Full and part time positions available; apply within … please. On neon signboards, pasted in doorways and taped to windows, the…

Help wanted.

Full and part time positions available; apply within … please.

On neon signboards, pasted in doorways and taped to windows, the signs can be found throughout downtown Whitehorse.

And they’re spreading.

On Tuesday, The News called Tim Hortons to ask if the doughnut giant faced an employee shortage.

Out of breath, the store manger came to the phone.

“Welcome to Tim Hortons, can I take your order?” rang out in the background.

So, did the store face a shortage of workers?

“It’s huge,” said manager Nicole. “Which is exactly why I can’t talk right now, I’m really busy on the drive-thru.”

She didn’t even have time to tell The News her last name.

Wal-Mart’s store manager Larry Regimbald had a bit more time to talk, but told a similar story.

Right now the mega-store is short 28 workers.

That’s twice as many employees as it needed last year at this time.

“It impacts our customers most,” said Regimbald. “There’s not enough coverage on the floor.”

And current employees are forced to pick-up the slack.

“One person ends up doing the job of three people,” said Regimbald.

“This worries us going into the tourist season.”

Currently, Wal-Mart is offering its staffers a $50 bonus for every new employee they bring in.

Although the mega-store always offers employee-incentive programs, it often loses staff in the summer.

“It’s hard in the summer with all the mining and hotels re-opening,” said Regimbald.

“These employers will drain people by offering more money and higher promises, although when workers take these jobs, they often find they don’t get the promised hours after the season has peaked.”

These days, job hunters face a seemingly endless smorgasbord of employment opportunities.

And, across the territory, employers are scrambling.

In fact, some are literally throwing themselves at prospective labourers, begging them to work.

At a job fair held at the Westmark on Friday, 24-year-old Jordan Marr was jumped by a Great Canadian Superstore rep.

Well, not quite.

He was walking past some booths and tables when he “was literally intercepted by a gentleman from the Superstore.”

The store rep started the conversation with, “I know you probably don’t want to work for the Superstore, but you could just work for us while you are waiting for other work,” said Marr.

“He told me I could start on Monday, for $9.25 an hour,” he added.

“I was headhunted by the Superstore.”

The store rep even went so far as to tell Marr he was welcome to work for just one or two days, to make some fast cash.

“He was very desperate,” said Marr.

Marr and his buddy came up from Vancouver for the summer to find work.

“We heard there were lots of jobs up here,” he said.

But both men hope to work in the mining industry at jobs that pay upwards of $12 an hour.

“We might work at Superstore for a few weeks, till the mining work starts,” said Marr.

After all, it pays $75 a day.

The staff shortage is a major topic of conversation between Whitehorse business owners, said Tim Hortons owner Dean Terry.

“I’ve been running Tim Hortons since 1999 and this is the worst I’ve ever seen it.”

This is just the beginning of the labour shortage, said Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce president Rick Karp.

“The problem hasn’t even neared its peak.”

The economy has started to move forward again, and the employee base is lagging, he said.

“We lost lots of employees when the mines closed and that downturn had a ripple affect that reached the service industry too,” said Karp.

Now there has been a turnaround, with more mining exploration than ever before, and the employee base has to catch up.

The employee shortage is largely felt filling entry-level jobs, he said.

Jobs in chains, national franchises and in sales are more difficult to fill, he added.

Lots of young Yukoners are heading to work on oil operations outside the territory, where they make upwards of $20 an hour, said Karp.

“These operations sometimes grab kids right out of high school.”

Karp also blames the retiring baby-boomers for the increasing employee shortage.

“We don’t have the population base to replace the aging baby boomers,” he said.

And the promised increase in immigration didn’t happen, added Karp.

“We need immigration to keep the market going.

“But you saw what happened here to immigrants who had jobs in the territory — they were sent back.”

So, there’s no one answer or solution to the worker shortage, he said.

“I foresee difficult times ahead for business.

“Although, in essence, business is very resilient and usually comes up with answers.”

Pizza Hut manager Blake Wildfong said his restaurant is always hiring.

But he does not blame retiring baby boomers, minimal immigration or mining closures.

“It’s just more and more difficult to find reliable staff,” he said.

Although Wildfong gets plenty of resumes, he said he’s lucky to have one out of every 10 workers he hires actually stick around.

“Why would they stay here, where they have to work harder, when they can go to Wal-Mart or the Superstore and just wander around,” he said.

“It’s more and more difficult to hire, train and maintain staff.”