By Rachel Fraser

Walk into the lobby of the Moose Pub and you’re greeted by a sign that not only tells you to wait to be seated, but that due to a shortage of staff, the wait for food will be 45 minutes. Local employers are struggling to attract and retain qualified staff due to a confluence of multiple factors. While the pipeline doubled the Valemount population, which gobbled up local housing stock and added to the demand on businesses, Moose Pub co-owner Charles Kosmadia says the problem started over Covid. All of a sudden, the workers disappeared. He attributes this to a lack of work ethic. “People don’t want to work. Where did everyone go? That many people didn’t pass away” 

WorkBC describes a more complicated situation, attributing significant blame to inflation. “The rising cost of living is prompting individuals to seek employment opportunities offering higher wages, and “¦ the increasing costs of running their businesses are placing a strain on (employer’s) ability to offer competitive compensation packages,” according to a statement by WorkBC.

WorkBC currently has approximately 115 open positions posted for the Robson Valley, a number they say is roughly comparable to last year.

While WorkBC had no specific data to illuminate how the availability of local accommodation is currently impacting staffing levels, Northern Health did confirm that a lack of local housing is an obstacle to staffing the Valemount Health Centre. To offset this, they have partnered with the Village to jointly purchase and operate a staff house.  

IGA Manager Gaurav Singh also observed that rents haven’t really gone down, but listed other obstacles to staffing, such as the remoteness of the community and lack of amenities. “Six months out of the year it’s dead. Only one bus out of town, once per week.” He says they are trying hard to hire; they work with Work BC and have ads in other communities, but what they are finding difficult to attract are the skilled specialists they require for produce, meat and bakery. Some former IGA employees say their hours were cut to the point where they couldn’t get the hours they needed to stay on, leading to a further staff shortage.

Northern Health noted that clinical staff is particularly difficult to attract in rural and Northern communities in general, and they are hoping the provincial government’s health human resources strategy will improve this. They acknowledged that the shortage has resulted in service interruptions locally, but stressed that they are doing everything they can to minimize the impacts. They pointed to the Northern Health Virtual Clinic as an additional means of accessing health care where in-person services are limited. 

Kosmadia would like to see more immigrants dispersed to the interior rather than staying in cities. He’s trying to hire under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, but despite the government knowing the hospitality industry is suffering, obstacles such as Labour Market Impact Assessments make it a very frustrating process. In the meantime, he says the shortage means closing Sunday/Monday to give staff time off and not burn them out. “I’m here early in the morning until 10 or 11 at night. The only way we can survive is to cut the hours down.