Labour market makeover

Some potential solutions to Alberta's labour shortage came out of Alberta Hotel & Lodging Association town hall meeting at the end of April.

By Colleen Isherwood, editor

At the end of April, the federal minister of employment called for a moratorium on the foodservice sector’s access to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) after reports the program was being abused. The suspension will put a stop to any new or pending labour market opinion (LMO) applications related to the foodservice sector.

In early May, AHLA president and CEO Dave Kaiser told CLN that Service Canada has clarified that hotels operating their own foodservice do not fall under the moratorium.

Delegates who attended a town hall meeting at the Alberta Hotel & Lodging Association at The Banff Centre, in Banff, AB, heard how much the industry in that province needs the program.

Alberta has 4.9 per cent unemployment (5 per cent is considered “full” employment); 46 per cent of all new Canadian jobs were created in the province; and the accommodation and foodservice sector employed 149,000 people last year—up 14.3 per cent year over year.

What’s on tap for next year? More growth—3.7 per cent GDP—a higher percentage than last year.

Clearly Alberta needs workers, and right now it relies heavily on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

The townhall meeting included a panel composed of AHLA president and CEO Dave Kaiser, HAC president and CEO Tony Pollard and Joanne Kirkland acting assistant deputy minister, tourism, for the province. Hoteliers also had their say about ways to approach the province’s labour shortages.
Here are some of their ideas to solve the labour market shortage.

1. Make hospitality an industry of choice. There are many ways to do this: education, training, certification, provision of benefits, and the Employer of Choice designation, a rigorous online assessment tool developed by the Canadian Tourism Human Resource Council.

The goal is to let employees know that the hotel industry offers careers in hospitality, not just entry-level jobs. Take a look at the terms used to describe different jobs—instead of “light duty cleaning attendant,” why not call them “housekeeping/laundry attendants”?

2. Combat the anecdotal stories in the news with real numbers. One of the most powerful tools Alberta has is its Labour Market and Wage Survey, now in its third year, which covers 64 per cent of the Alberta hotel workforce. It showed that 28 per cent of respondents are using temporary foreign workers; that one in five full time hospitality occupations is being filled by a foreign worker; and that the program was more active in certain areas such as Peace River, Hinton or Edson, AB.

It gives statistics on wages, noting that there is indeed a shortage of workers, and that participating companies pay foreign workers prevailing wages, and in some cases more than the going rate.

3. On the political front, work to have Service Canada create a separate category for hospitality workers, specific to the 10,000 temporary foreign workers in the Canadian hospitality industry (5,000 in Alberta).

The new category could be modelled on the one specific to agricultural workers, and could provide a Group of Employers program, enabling temporary foreign workers to move more easily from one establishment to another.

Pollard encouraged the Alberta hoteliers to work at a grassroots level and talk to the 28 provincial MPs, telling them stories about what the labour shortage is doing to actual hotels.

The hoteliers in the meeting didn’t think that was going far enough—a number of them said that a united public relations effort is required, and that they were willing to pay for such initiatives.

“Politicians will follow public opinion,” one hotelier noted. “We need to do something provincially—a concerted effort.”