Staffing shortage affects local businesses

Small businesses shortening hours and hiring more part-time staff to fill the gap
A busy winter is expected. Photo Zuzy Rocka.

As the community enters its first winter without COVID-19 restrictions, some local businesses have struggled to find enough staff to meet the demands of the busy season, worsened by a lack of housing on the mountain.

Suzanne Duchesne, owner of Chez Joe Poutine, said heading into the holidays she is a few staff members short of what she would ideally like to have, which is impacting the service she can provide.

“I would love to go to pre-pandemic hours, but I don’t know that I’m going to be able to,” Duchesne said. “Right now I’m having to stick with shortened hours that work.”

She said it’s not necessarily that she’s had trouble finding employees, it’s that those willing to work in the community can’t find housing. She said moving forward, she’s hoping that there’s someone who already has housing on the mountain who could help her out part-time.

“I’m hoping that somebody is looking to pad their hours at another job,” she said. “Barring that, I really don’t see myself finding anyone. Everybody’s looking for help.”

Ohana Deli & Market also had to adapt and hire more part-time workers than usual. Owner Bobbe Lyall said the biggest challenge was being unable to find enough skilled chefs, so she ended up hiring unskilled workers and doing more in-house training.

“We’ve had to spend a ton more time training and hiring part-time people,” she said. “There’s a lot of extra costs that we’ve incurred just bringing in probably two times the amount of bodies that we need to do the same amount of work.”

Lyall echoed that housing was an obstacle when trying to find workers. She said she is fortunate because a lot of her staff are already local and for the winter she was able to find housing for three employees. 

However, she said providing staff housing is a risk because all the costs fall back onto her.

“For a small business to have staff housing, it’s a really big expense. But it’s part of the deal up here, you kind of have to work it out,” Lyall said. “If we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t have our roster filled with staff.”

Part of the staffing struggle is also that this is Ohana’s first normal winter season — it opened in 2019 just before the pandemic started. Lyall said it’s hard to know what the winter season will have in store for them.

“It feels like we’re starting all over again,” she said. “We’ve managed to juggle and we’ve had some really great community support … We need to make sure this winter that we’re on our A game so we can start trying to make up for some of the losses over the last three years.”

Overall, Lyall said she’s happy they were able to find enough staff and is excited to see what the winter brings.

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