Getting in early to avoid staffing shortage

Ticket scannersDespite cumbersome and expensive changes to the Foreign Workers Program, Sun Peaks Resort Corporation (SPRC) is fully staffed for the winter season, thanks to a proactive recruitment strategy.

Vincent Lafontaine, sports director for SPRC, said the changes have made sponsoring foreign workers a far more costly and cumbersome process.

“It’s making it harder and harder for ski resorts and ski schools to keep staff around or bring staff back. It’s more expensive and it’s definitely creating some problems,” Lafontaine said.

“The Foreign Workers Program went from a zero dollar application fee two years ago, to $250 last year, to $1,000 this year.”

Lafontaine points out the $1,000 application fee is required upfront, regardless of whether the application is even successful.

“The cost is very prohibitive. That’s a big hurdle to cross.”

But Lafontaine said SPRC is sitting well despite the changes.

“We’ve been really proactive in the past year. We started trying not to rely so much on foreign workers and trying to recruit more domestically, such as from Eastern Canada,” he said.

“We started hiring back in May, very proactively and aggressively, trying to hire the best applicants possible. We’re now fully hired, as of a month ago.”

But Lafontaine warns, due to specialist staffing shortages across Canada, such as snow school instructors, other resorts may not be sitting as comfortably as Sun Peaks.

“If a ski resort is not being as proactive and they’re waiting a little bit, then they’re in trouble, because it’s going to be harder to get foreign workers.”

A large resort which may historically hire up to 250 foreign workers could be looking at a bill upwards of $250,000 if they’re unable to source staff domestically.

Lafontaine said the Snow Sports School was usually the main employer of foreign workers, however areas such as Food and Beverages and Lift Operations also utilized foreign workers to fill staffing vacancies.

“We’re still getting lots of applications, but many of these would need us to sponsor them, and we can’t do that anymore,” he said.

Christopher Nicolson, president of Tourism Sun Peaks, credited SPRC for securing their staff early, however he warned the new changes to the Foreign Workers Program would have negative long-term effects on staffing for many mountain resorts.

“The fundamental truth is that there aren’t enough Canadians willing to relocate for seasonal employment,” Nicolson said.

“Somebody from Saskatchewan or northern British Columbia or Vancouver is simply not going to pick up and leave their families and friends for three or four months of work. It has not been proven to work. Mountain resorts are dependent on other sources of employees, and in the past, the Foreign Workers Program has been a saving grace.”

Under the new changes, Nicolson cautioned, mountain resorts including Sun Peaks, would struggle.

“We felt it during summer and last winter, and in coming years it will get significantly tougher. There are still businesses that are struggling to find staff (in Sun Peaks).”

Nicolson said work was being undertaken by mountain resorts to lobby the Federal Government for an exemption for seasonal workers, along the same lines as the exemptions offered to the agricultural sector.

“We’re trying to have the Federal Government understand how mountain resorts work, because it’s very, very different than a large restaurant chain in downtown Vancouver or downtown Toronto.

“We’re hoping the Foreign Workers Program could recognize the special circumstances that mountain resorts are in.”