North

Yukon businesses scramble to fill jobs amid labour shortage

It's a perennial problem in the Yukon: businesses scrambling to hire workers as tourist season is about to kick off. The situation is so dire that some restaurants around Whitehorse have had to cut back hours.

Some restaurants have reduced opening hours because they can't find enough workers

Business leaders in the Yukon are warning that a shortage of skilled labour could cause service disruptions for tourists this summer. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

It's a perennial problem in the Yukon: businesses scrambling to hire workers as tourist season is about to kick off.

The situation is so dire that some restaurants around Whitehorse have had to cut back hours.

Lee Willett, who owns the Burnt Toast Cafe in downtown Whitehorse and the Cut Off Restaurant south of the city, said she's struggled to hire cooks.

"I get zero resumes and if I do get resumes they usually don't have the experience or the skill," she said. "It's a real problem in this town."

Burnt Toast is currently closed for dinner, while the Cut Off is open four days a week. The labour shortage is a contributing factor, Willett said, adding it's hard to compete with wages offered to food service staff by mining companies and governments.

Jackie Olson, executive director of the Klondike Visitors Association, said the usual supply of young seasonal workers who typically make their way to Dawson City each summer aren't showing up in the same numbers this year.

"We're just not seeing that traffic at all this year," she said.

Mike Pemberton, chair of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, said he has hired at least eight staff for his downtown furniture store through the territorial government's nominee program. 

Mike Pemberton, chair of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, said if it wasn't for the Yukon government's nominee program, he might be out of business. (Cory Correia/CBC)

"If it wasn't for the nominee program, at Ashley HomeStore, we may not be in business," he said.

Willett said that's not an option for her.

"To bring people in from another country, sight unseen, not knowing what their skills are, having to go through ... all that paperwork, all that expense, it's just something we don't want to do," she said.

Olson said the Yukon has done a good job marketing itself to visitors, but it might be time to change tactics.

"I think we honestly need to change that focus to attract people to come up and actually work in this lovely environment and have their own great experience."

Blake Rogers, executive director of the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon, said business groups have already gone to trade shows in Alberta and British Columbia in a bid to drum up more workers. He said there is also work for people who aren't looking for full-time work.

"A lot of people are looking for maybe not necessarily a 9-to-5 but are looking for opportunities to do flex work or shifts here and there," he said. "And then also just being in the tourism industry affords you some great opportunities for travel and exploration."

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