Alternative labour solutions

By Colleen Isherwood, Editor

So what happens this summer in Canmore, Alberta during peak season when the hotel labour crunch reaches crisis proportions?

“Check in time will be six o’clock. There will be huge incentives for guests to get their rooms cleaned just every three days. And we won’t accept reservations for under three days.”

That’s the answer I got when I posed that question to a Canmore hotelier at the Alberta Hotel and Lodging Association Town Hall meeting in Banff last month. And yes, customers will adapt and he will likely do fine, since he’s dealing with a top-demand summer tourism market just outside the Banff park gate.

Other options emerged at the AHLA and Saskatchewan Hotel & Hospitality Association conferences, where labour problems were once again front and centre.

Both conferences mentioned Aboriginal employees as one possible solution, since that demographic group is actually growing. In an enlightening session at the AHLA on attracting and retaining aboriginal workers, speakers Sheila Harrison, director industry and government partnerships for the Alberta government, and Rob St. Denis, youth labour market consultant for Community Futures Treaty Seven, said that for Aboriginal people, the term family takes in the broader community. Relationships between employers and their Aboriginal employees often break down when the employee is called away for a funeral or other extended family event. It’s considered offensive if the employee doesn’t attend. There are other cultural differences — such as a preference for speaking softly and a soft rather than firm handshake.

There are still issues to be solved — a hotel still has a basic problem if all of its Aboriginal employees attend the same funeral for a few days. But the Alberta seminar opened up some dialogue, and helped hoteliers appreciate cultural differences.

In Saskatchewan, we learned about Mark Wafer, who has seven Tim Hortons in Toronto and has hired 41 people with disabilities — one third of his workforce. In a video, Wafer explained that he didn’t do it because it was the right thing. It just made good business sense, as the employees are top performers, loyal and productive, and their attitude is contagious.

AHLA is also putting half a million dollars into an innovative partnership with Olds College that brings the learning to the workers on their phones or tablets, and encourages young workers through a dual credit program.
Problems abound but solutions do too!