‘Post and Pray’: Revelstoke labour shortage hobbles business recovery

Help wanted: Revelstoke labour shortage leads to forced closures, reduced hours and calls for innovation and action on housing and workforce shortages.

We're Hiring: a message repeated by businesses across Revelstoke as the town faces a labour shortage. Photo: Aaron Orlando

A post-pandemic restrictions labour shortage is hitting small businesses in Revelstoke hard, and a number of factors unique to resort municipalities are putting further pressure on labour supply.

The Revelstoke economy relies heavily on foreign workers. Although the reopening of borders and resumption of travel is providing optimism, a difficult summer lies ahead. Local businesses, the Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce, and members of the economic development commission all agree: finding people to do low-wage work in an expensive resort town is becoming more and more difficult.

As summer tourism season hits full swing, many restaurants are struggling to find employees. Photo: Aaron Orlando

Domestic tourism accelerating as the labour pool dries up

In April, the Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce conducted a pulse check survey with 35 local businesses responding. Out of those 35 businesses, 20 stated that the availability of workers has worsened. Since then, Revelstoke has got even busier.

This shortage comes at incredibly bad timing. Kristopher King, Business and Development manager for Canwest Hotels Ltd., which operates the Ramada in Revelstoke, says travelers are seeking out regional vacations while international travel is restricted. The industry is expecting a big influx of Canadian visitors.

“People are starting to get a taste of the mountain towns and their own country,” says King. “That influx is now, we’re really seeing that pent-up demand for traveling that we are going to have to rely heavily on in the next couple of years.”

However, increasing demand coupled with a labour shortage means that existing staff are facing higher workloads and stress. King has already seen burnout within his staff, and that worries him.

“If our team is over-stressed, they’re not going to make the right decisions. They’re not going to be an effective employee. And we appreciate their all-hands-on-deck attitude, but that can only go until you reach burnout,” King explains. “I don’t want to see them so stressed out that their personal lives are affected. And we really need to address that.”

Can Revelstoke provide better incentives?

According to King, within such a competitive labour market, employers have to step up their incentives to attract staff. He emphasizes that employee experience will make-or-break hiring in a competitive market. 

“Most people are just happy to be here and we don’t have to do so much. Now, we’re in competition with our neighbors,” King says. “People are very highly aware of what is out there now.”

As the competition for workers ramps up in Revelstoke, the rest of the country is facing increasing labour demands as well. The June 2021 Labour Force Survey from Statistics Canada reveals that British Columbia is the only province with employment rates above pre-pandemic levels. With more people in the province working than before the pandemic, the labour shortage can seem contradictory. According to WorkBC, unemployment in the Thompson-Okanagan region was at 6.5 per cent in June 2021, compared to 10.3 per cent in June 2020. Despite decreasing unemployment, there does not seem to be enough available workers for the hospitality industry to meet demand. 

With statistics indicating that many people in the province are working, attracting workers from elsewhere in Canada is a solution that King highlights. He points to Banff, Alta. as a community that’s adapted: the community acknowledges that it is a seasonal employer, and they market heavily to students and other young people who are looking to “have that life experience and then carry on with their lives.”

“Revelstoke and other smaller communities need to band together and do the exact same thing and have an employee attraction campaign, or a resident influx campaign,” King says. However, he also emphasizes that staff housing is an integral part of attracting employees. Like many issues in Revelstoke, housing plays a critical role in the labour shortage.

Read more about the effect of the labour shortage on the restaurant industry here:

Dining on in a post-pandemic world

What’s next: Proposals from the Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce and Community Economic Development

A long-term strategy addressing affordable housing and resident attraction can help prevent labour shortages, and short-term strategies can ease some of the strain facing employers.

The Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce recently submitted a grant application to the B.C. Government for a ‘Bridge to Culinary Skills’ program, offered through Okanagan College. The program would train up to eight participants in the culinary field during the fall, and have them ready for placement into restaurant kitchens in time for the busy winter season. Additionally, the chamber is pushing for advancement on the affordable housing project at 420 Downie Street.

Learn more about the proposed affordable housing project on Downie Street here:

Brief: High density development proposed for former Mount Begbie School site

The labour shortage is also on the city council agenda for July 27. The economic development commission is assembling a report that examines the impact of the pandemic on the labour supply, and how to address the issues through an economic development strategy. Ingrid Bron, Director of Community Economic Development, said, “the issue of labour force shortages is not a new one for the city or for the tourism industry across the province.” Bron said the issue has been identified and that a report will be prepared for council.

For now, “help wanted” signs remain in business windows across town. King describes the situation as “post and pray.”

“You put a post up on WorkBC, or you put a post up on Indeed, and you just pray for people to apply.”