'We've had very little turnover; people are coming in and they're staying with us, which has been really great'
When the Saskatchewan government began welcoming displaced Ukrainians fleeing the ongoing invasion from Russia, one employer decided it was time to step in and offer assistance — while benefiting from valuable employees.
“The hotel industry has been one of the hardest hits through COVID and especially when it comes to staffing, and this has been a very great opportunity,” says Jesse Tiefenbach, CHRO at d3h Hotels in Saskatoon.
The company has hired 15 new employees so far for seven locations, and will continue to do so, as more flights from Poland to the province are scheduled up to the end of the year.
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But it wasn’t easy to get started, according to Tiefenbach, who looked to its employee base initially in July, when the first flight landed, to see if any spoke Ukrainian and could offer assistance in reaching out to the newcomers.
“We viewed the language barrier at the time as our number-one barrier to really getting these people in and getting them working,” he says.
As a result, the company worked with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) Regina branch to ensure one person in each hotel spoke some English, and then could be trained up, “and then in turn, they could help us to get the other employees trained up,” says Tiefenbach.
As well, d3h has attended various hiring events in further efforts to reach out to the community.
“One of the things that we found successful is actually bringing some of our new Ukrainian employees to these job fairs just that they can help us to communicate to the displaced people that are coming in and really be able to connect with them and communicate with them because that definitely is the number one challenge that they’re facing right now is just the language barrier when they arrive,” he says.
Since Saskatchewan already has a large Ukrainian community, it is a natural place to bring in these potential employees, says Tiefenbach but some accommodations will have to be undertaken by governments.
“They do have some special programs that have been created this past year for hotels in particular, and hard-to-fill positions, and so these people that are coming in, they’re going to probably qualify under, for example, working as a housekeeping room attendant,” says Tiefenbach.
“There are going to be channels but then the issue is that I don’t think that anyone was really prepared for the number of people that are coming in so when it comes to the SINP [Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program] program, there’s a certain cap as to how many people can be nominated.”
For now, the refugees are given a three-year work permit to help them settle into Canada but that doesn’t necessarily lead to citizenship.
“That’s our next step is to start to look at being able to assist these employees with being able to, if they want to… seek out permanent resident status and that’s going to be through some immigration channels that can hopefully assist them,” he says.
For the industry, it’s good to help these people settle into a new country while also filling a significant need for the hard-hit hotel segment.
“Talking to a number of hoteliers in the province here, [they agree that] working with the Ukrainian displaced people has really been able to help us to solve that problem and so it’s nice because we’re able to help them and give them meaningful employment,” says Tiefenbach.
“It’s been a great success. Ultimately, we’ve had very little turnover; people are coming in; they’re staying with us, which has been really great.”
And for the new employees, the reaction has been heartwarming, he says.
“They’re really appreciative to come in and be able to find a job because when they are arriving, they don’t know what they’re going to do in terms of being able to pay their bills, and so finding a job is their biggest priority.”