Pilot project aims to ease ‘chronic’ industry labour shortage
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Canada’s hoteliers recently received a boost from the federal government to help them integrate more newcomers into the $41.2-billion-per-year industry.
The industry is facing “chronic” shortages of workers and has been for some time, said Philip Mondor, president of Tourism HR Canada in Ottawa.
“It’s going to get much worse,” he said. “This project is one of many strategies, but it’s a key one where it’s designed to have us better link with new Canadians and to give them stable, good-paying hotel jobs… The sector is more diverse than any of the other economic sectors in Canada. But we need more workers and this is the obvious group to work with as a priority.”
Unveiled in June, the three-year “Employing Newcomers in Canadian Hotels” pilot program will see $7 million allocated to connect immigrants with hotel jobs in five regions across the country.
The five sites are: southern Ontario; Saskatchewan; Banff, Lake Louise and Calgary; the Maritimes; and Yukon, said Alana Baker, director of government relations with the Hotel Association of Canada (HAC) in Ottawa, which is partnering with Tourism HR Canada to deliver the funds.
“The overall aim of the project is to employ at least 1,300 unemployed or underemployed newcomers into sustainable, well-paid, long-term hotel jobs,” she said.
The program is part of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s $32 million in funding for service delivery improvements and innovations under the government’s settlement program.
Labour supply shortages
The money is expected to address the clear number-one issue facing the tourism sector and the hotel industry, said Baker.
“Labour supply shortages in our sector remain the single biggest issue of concern for our members and hoteliers,” she said. “Sixty-six per cent of accommodation businesses see labour issues as a significant business impediment.”
“Today, the hotel industry has thousands of available jobs. The hotels are short-staffed and as that demand continues to rise, we, in turn, face a situation that is out of balance.”
Some of the numbers are staggering, said Mondor.
“Over the last 15 years, there were 100,000 jobs that went unfilled. And that accounted for approximately $11 billion of lost revenues. Our predictions over the next 15 to 17 years, there’s still 150,000 jobs that will go unfilled.”
Because of its unique position, this program may help integrate more new Canadians into the country and workforce, said Darlene Grant Fiander, president of the Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia in Halifax.
“Tourism is a sector where there’s certainly demand in many communities (and it’s) a great way to connect those new Canadians to jobs in our sector,” she said.
One of the main aspects of the new effort will be to provide language skill training.
“Most of the language training will actually occur while people are on the job, doing work, getting paid and they’ll learn language through different means,” said Mondor.
“Language issues are the largest barrier that any new Canadian faces in terms of connecting with employment, most of it because they don’t have proficiency in English or French.”
“Some of it will be traditional language training. But a lot of it will be with skilled tourism professionals who are mentoring them, who are working with them routinely.”
“It’s very hands-on training that will help them get up to speed rapidly with the language,” he said.
The hotel industry, which traditionally employs many immigrants, is the perfect vehicle to provide this type of education, according to Baker.
“The particular emphasis of the training is the focus on the practical language requirements and how they apply to the work context. And it would cover four dimensions: verbal or oral communications, writing communications, comprehension, and reading skills.”
Traditional hotel-based jobs are not the only ones being targeted, said Mondor.
“The neat thing about this program is that it’s in the accommodation and hotel sector. But there are about 60 different types of occupations within the sector,” he said. “If someone has particular skills in accounting, they could end up working in the back office or they could be at the management level or at the frontline, and the focus is on full-time employment.”
If all goes well, the plan is to “scale it up, perhaps even double those numbers if we can demonstrate demand,” said Mondor.
“The funding right now does support at least 1,300 jobs. And it could mean as many as 300 to 400 employers that will absorb those people in all corners of Canada.”
HAC will work to identify the hotels with pressing employment needs, said Baker.
“We will assist the delivery partners at the placement and the training and the pre-employment process,” she said. “Also (we will) play a key role in the communication and highlighting the success stories as the project rolls out.”
The funding is similar to projects in the past that has targeted youth, said Grant Fiander.
“It’s a new initiative in relation to the new Canadians. But a number of years ago, through Tourism HR Canada, there was an initiative called ‘Ready To Work,’” she said. “The concept was that there’s a large number of young people not attached to the labour market, and that tourism was identified as a sector that provides a lot of those first-job skills: one of three Canadians start their working life in a tourism-type job. And most of them move on to various career paths. But it does provide those essential skills for workplace engagement.”
Access to funding
Many other industries have labour shortage issues, said Mondor, but the travel industry is uniquely positioned to use the money for more than just jobs.
“(Many industries are) facing truly chronic issues as we are — and chronic is the right word for this — but what we have said in tourism is that we have a different value proposition. In tourism, what differentiates us from some of the other industries, is that we are also very much linked to a social agenda.”
“This is an industry that employs a more diverse workforce than any other; it’s culturally diverse, not only in terms of who it employs, but what it offers up... so we’re very important from a social lens,” he said.
“This industry is also very important from an ecological point of view,” said Mondor. “You can anticipate that in tourism — particularly with parks, outdoor recreation, guiding adventure, and even in food and beverage and a combination of areas — we were some of the leaders in... ecological movements.”
“We have a major influence in terms of how practices are being managed in order to conserve,” he said.
And this money is a sure sign that the federal Liberals value the industry, according to Baker.
“I think the government is recognizing that tourism overall is a large contributor to be economy and this project is a clear example of how government and industry can work together and achieve collective goals. We are seeing movement and we remain optimistic that we will continue to see movement as we go forward.”