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Jasper warns of 'severe' labour shortage

Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. (CTV News Edmonton) Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. (CTV News Edmonton)

Jasper's labour shortage has become more acute in recent months ahead of a tourist season that is expected to be busy due to loosening health restrictions.

Ginette Marcoux, executive director of the Jasper Employment and Education Centre (JEEC), warned that COVID-19 vaccination requirements may exacerbate the labour shortage.

She noted how a balance needed to be struck between keeping people safe and making sure those seeking jobs feel welcome, vaccinations or not.

“With the lifting of mandatory vaccinations for Alberta Health Services (AHS) and Government of Alberta employees this week, I wonder if employers in Jasper are considering walking back their own vaccination requirements,” she said.

Marcoux said tight labour markets are expected to continue this year, and with that, employers may start lifting their vaccination policies in order to secure more workers.

“We understand that some employers have corporate directives and that it may take time to change policy,” she said.

“JEEC has recently lifted their own mandatory vaccination requirement for new hires in order to consider all skilled candidates when hiring.”

Marcoux spoke with a regional occupational H&S consultant for the Yellowhead area and said they confirmed that many employers east of Jasper-Hinton and Edson-have not implemented any vaccine requirements.

“Finding a way to keep people safe is something we all care about, and ensuring that jobseekers feel welcome to work in Jasper regardless of vaccination may be in our best interest,” Marcoux said.

“Recently, our centre has seen an influx of jobseekers that have either quit or been laid off because they're not vaccinated. Some of these workers are leaving our community at a time when we need workers the most. Can we afford that?”

In its February Job Trends newsletter, JEEC reported how the ski hill was at capacity on the weekends, hotels were reporting low vacancies and restaurants had waitlists.

As of March, there were 310 employers postings and 647 job vacancies.

The destination is now expected to experience a busy summer season as restrictions continue to ease and people begin to travel more freely.

“This is a very confusing time for people,” said Pattie Pavlov, executive director of the Jasper Park Chamber of Commerce.

“We're asking people to be kind, respect people for what works best for them. Most people I've talked to have their staff still wearing masks, but not all.”

Pavlov said she will be meeting with provincial and federal staff in the next three-to-four weeks about the “severe” shortage of workers in Jasper.

“That is one of our top priorities. They need to realize there is a crisis here. The worker shortage, it's been bad and it's getting worse.”

In addition to the shortage of workers, Pavlov said the Chamber is advocating for housing in Jasper.

“You can't have one without the other,” she said.

“You want people to come here and work and enjoy the environment. Where are they going to sleep?”

She said it is not that employers don't want to offer housing to their staff, but rather there are no places to buy.

“Finding a place where you can sign a lease for your staff is near to impossible.”

James Jackson, president and CEO at Tourism Jasper, said the labour shortage in Jasper was “serious.”

“It's something we've known about for some time now. We saw this coming in 2020.”

In 2021, the Tourism Jasper board allocated over $100,000 for its labour attraction campaign.

“The focus is on people in large urban centres who are underemployed, not getting the hours,” Jackson said.

Another focus is high school graduates.

“We want them to stay until the end of October or longer,” Jackson said.

“The third focus is post-secondary graduates, who graduate in April and aren't returning to their studies.”

Jackson said there are a couple of ways to look at local accommodations.

The first is an “acute” perspective, or what's happening today.

“We acknowledge there's a housing shortage. That won't change this year.”

Another way is a long-term approach, working collaboratively with partners in the community and beyond.

Jackson said Tourism Jasper is hosting a round table with Randy Boissonnault, Minister of Tourism and Associate Minister of Finance, who will be in Jasper on March 18 and 19.

“We have to continue to advocate for affordable housing in Jasper,” Jackson said.

“Labour and accommodation will be at the top of the agenda.” Top Stories

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