The lingering effects of COVID-19 are aggravating the Okanagan labour crisis

Labour crunch worsens

It’s one of the reasons several Kelowna restaurants had to temporarily close this week, after possible COVID-19 exposures in staff — a worker shortage.

“We are in a labour crisis,” said Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the BC Restaurant and Food Services Association.

Even before the pandemic, Tostenson said the industry was 45,000 people short and it is much worse now.

“We’ve lost a lot of people who just left the industry because we couldn’t be reliable, and kept on closing off and on. There’s also the other factor, that we don’t have enough people in British Columbia, irrespective of what’s going on with the pandemic.”

The BCRFA is working on accelerating the approval times to get trained, skilled foreign workers into the province.

“It’s about a six-month delay right now but we think if we work with the provincial government we can get this down to perhaps a couple of months,” said Tostenson. “And then we’re going to have, especially in the Okanagan, the benefit of students coming back to university and hopefully they need part-time jobs. So there’s a whole combination of things that need to happen here, and we will get through as we normally do, but right now it’s really tough for the business owners.”

The industry is looking at things it has never done in the past, like predictive scheduling, which would ensure staff have the same hours each week. Employers are also offering incentives, perks and benefits.

Unfortunately, Tostenson admits there are no quick solutions.

“The fact of the matter is, before the pandemic, we had major challenges all throughout the economy just because we are about one-third short all the time for labour, and it’s going to take about 10 years for us in British Columbia to catch up to that.”

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