AHLA town hall tackles labour market woes

Speakers at the AHLA Town Hall on Labour Market issues, l to r, Brian Woodward, faculty member Peter Lougheed Leadership  Centre; Dave Kaiser, president and CEO, AHLA, Tony Pollard, president and CEO, Hotel Association of Canada; and JoAnn Kirkland,  acting assistant deputy minister of tourism for Alberta.

Speakers at the AHLA Town Hall on Labour Market issues, l to r, Brian Woodward, faculty member Peter Lougheed Leadership Centre; Dave Kaiser, president and CEO, AHLA, Tony Pollard, president and CEO, Hotel Association of Canada; and JoAnn Kirkland, acting assistant deputy minister of tourism for Alberta.

style=”float: none; margin: 0px;” src=”https://canadianlodgingnews.com/media/uploads/2014/05/05/2eccbd24bd0e5d020775137729d7f83e.jpg”>

By Colleen Isherwood, editor

BANFF, AB—Hiring temporary foreign workers isn’t the first choice of Alberta hospitality employers—it’s expensive to go through the hiring process, then fly someone over from, say, the Philippines and help them find housing. HAC president Tony Pollard put out a figure of $2,000 to hire each temporary foreign worker, but hoteliers in the province said the cost is much more than that.

It’s hard to get Canadian workers, especially in resource-based boomtowns like Peace River, Hinton, Edson, Grande Prairie and Fort McMurray where there’s competition for labour from $70,000 industry jobs.

And it’s not as though hoteliers haven’t tried to hire Canadian workers. One hotelier commented. “We’ve tried, and people send us their resumes and then we wait around for them to come to the interviews. They have fulfilled their requirements for Employment Insurance by applying, and they didn’t really want the job.”

There are abuses of the program, and there are cases like that of the woman in Weyburn, SK, who claims she was fired after working for a company for decades and a foreign worker was hired to take her place. But there are many other cases where temporary foreign workers are an essential component of a hospitality organization’s staffing solutions.

Real numbers not anecdotes

The Alberta Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) has independent research by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) that shows actual numbers.

“The Labour Market and Wage Survey provides an accurate diagnosis of what we are faced with,” AHLA president Dave Kaiser told a town hall meeting addressing labour market problems at the association’s annual conference, held in Banff from April 24-26.

“In 2013, we had an excellent response with 64 per cent of the [hotel] workforce covered. The numbers from the survey show that 28 per cent of respondents are using temporary foreign workers to fill labour gaps. One in five full time occupations is now being filled by a foreign worker.”

Making hospitality more attractive

One way to tackle the dependence on temporary foreign workers is to make our industry more attractive.

“The Employer of Choice program does this one employer at a time. This year we had 87 properties receive the designation,” Kaiser said.

“The Employer of Choice is an awesome thing—it shows we are serious about how we treat, train and compensate people.”

Other provinces including Saskatchewan also have Employer of Choice programs.

AHLA also offers front-line training for front desk, housekeeping and supervisors. On the education side, they support students through $50,000 in scholarships each year. “That’s the future,” Kaiser said.

JoAnn Kirkland, acting assistant deputy minister of tourism for Alberta, noted that the provincial government is working to make the industry more accessible to groups such as youth, older workers and aboriginal groups, working towards a “motivated, trained and educated workforce.”

Dual credit strategies whereby high school students can obtain credits that apply to both their high school degree and a college degree, help encourage youth to finish high school and go on to post-secondary for courses that include hospitality.

Lobbying government for change

Pollard noted that we need a permanent solution to what’s been termed a temporary problem.

“Dave’s PWC study proves that yes, we do have a shortage, and that we pay the prevailing wage plus,” he told the Town Hall

“We cannot take on the CBC. These stories will keep on coming until something else big happens. We all know about slow news days,” he noted.

“We should focus on the local level— go out to the 28 federal MPs in Alberta and say, my hotel doesn’t have enough staff. Let them know about the hotels we open, but we can’t open all the floors because we don’t have enough staff.”

National task force

The HAC has appointed a national task force, with Kaiser from AHLA as its head.

“We have half a million temporary foreign workers in Canada, but only 5,000 in accommodation in Alberta and 10,000 across Canada. We are low-skilled and our model is small. We are looking at the migrants model and a Group of Employers program design for temporary foreign workers to move among employers,” said Kaiser.

It would be hotel and lodging worker specific, he added. There would be bilateral agreements with foreign countries to make sure that documents are in order and legal, similar to the agreement AHLA already has in place with Jamaica. The industry would stop using third party recruiters, and have employers commit to an industry human resources plan.

Under the plan, everyone would have to be involved in research (such as the Labour Market study); employers would participate in a program like CTHRC’s Employer of Choice, which would include an audit of human resource practices; employers would be committed to the hotel industry recruitment plan and target underemployed groups; and hotels would be required to join a provincial hotel association.

What’s next?

A number of hoteliers in the audience said that there was a need for a concerted public relations effort to counteract the negative publicity generated by reports like those of the CBC and Globe and Mail. They indicated that they were willing to pay for such a provincial or federal initiative.

Pollard summed it all up with a Banff analogy. “When William Van Horne came out and built Banff Springs hotel, he said that you can’t export the scenery, so you will have to import the people. One hundred and twenty-five years later, not much has changed. We have to keep on importing the people.”

Emotional intelligence

Stephen Barth

Stephen Barth

style=”float: left; margin: 0px 10px 10px 0px; width: 278.96px; height: 295px;” src=”https://canadianlodgingnews.com/media/uploads/2014/05/05/060835da2e108099583922eb6cdd48a5.jpg”>

BANFF, AB—Emotional intelligence is a strong predictor of job performance. Mastering emotional intelligence is the key to unlocking your true potential as a leader, manager or communicator.

Stephen Barth’s keynote presentation at the AHLA helped delegates understand emotional intelligence, master it, and use it personally to cope with change and stress as well as professionally develop engaged, productive and committed employees. Barth is the author of Hospitality Law and co-author of Restaurant Law Basics. He is based in Houston, TX.

Barth says it’s important to understand what stimulates our reactions, to manage those reactions and emotions, to be self-motivated, and most importantly, to practice social awareness and empathy.

For example, when someone cuts in front of you on the highway, how you react is your decision. You can let the other driver make you angry, you can drive up beside them and escalate the conflict. Or you can maintain control, and not let that aggressive driver dictate how you will feel that day.

And you can make great progress in your life by actually putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and practicing empathy.

Barth tells a story about a sous chef in a 2,000-room New York hotel who had spent 25 years being the best sous chef possible. And in those 30 years, the sous chef had always had Sunday and Monday off—something unheard of in the business.

In all of those years, the sous chef had never worked a Sunday or Monday, refusing each time he was asked. Not one time had the sous chef ever been flexible.

One day, the hotel F&B manager had an event on a Monday morning, which needed to be overseen by a chef. He couldn’t get anyone qualified at the hotel to work; he tried outside agencies with no luck; and finally, he approached the sous chef.

When asked if he could work on the Monday, the sous chef immediately said, “No, I can’t help you.”

His manager asked, “Why not?”

The sous chef explained that his son had been a quadriplegic his entire life and that on Sunday and Monday, the entire family came home.

“Those are the most remarkable days of my life,” the sous chef said. “And on Monday, we can finally get him a motorized wheelchair and I have to be there to pick it up.”

The F&B manager listened as the sous chef outlined all of his son’s accomplishments through the years.

Later, the sous chef came back and asked, “What time do you need me on Monday morning?”

Why the change of heart? “The only thing I did that was different was that, this time, I listened to what was important to him,” the F&B manager said.