Focus shifts to post-pandemic issues

$1M from province will help organizations address labour shortages, supply chain challenges


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The Manitoba government shifted its sights from COVID-19 relief to post-pandemic issues in its latest funding announcement for business.

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The Manitoba government shifted its sights from COVID-19 relief to post-pandemic issues in its latest funding announcement for business.

The province is splitting $1 million four ways, which organizations plan to use to address labour shortages, to build sustainable supply chains and to upscale Manitoban producers’ companies.

“Business is starting to come back, which is fantastic, but now we need to provide that service to them,” said Ron Popiel, general manager of the Hyatt House on Sterling Lyon Parkway.

Economic Development Minister Cliff Cullen (right) makes an announcement about funding for COVID-19 recovery as Ron Popiel (left), general manager of the Hyatt House on Sterling Lyon Parkway, Scott Jocelyn, president and CEO of the Manitoba Hotel Association, and Michael Mikulak, executive director of Food and Beverage Manitoba, listen in Winnipeg on Tuesday. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

The hotel hosted Tuesday’s announcement. The Manitoba Hotel Association is one of four groups to receive $250,000 for spending as it sees fit.

The MHA’s money is going towards an advertising campaign to draw workers.

“I think this is a great initiative,” Popiel said.

Hyatt House is facing inflation-induced expense hikes after two years of little profit; still, using the government money as aid is not the better option in this case, Popiel said.

Attracting staff is essential, he said. Hyatt House is hiring in all departments — about 10 to 12 staff overall.

“We… want to be fair to the core staff that we have,” Popiel said. “We don’t want to say, ‘Now we’ve got all this business coming in, now you need to work twice as hard to get the job done.’”

He hopes the advertising campaign will educate Manitobans on the perks of working in the hospitality industry. He said he has fond memories of serving famous hockey players and royalty.

“There’s always something exciting about telling that story about what I do for a living,” Popiel said. “It’s not just going to work; it’s what I do, it’s who I am.”

“I think trying to get that out to the public is one of our greatest opportunities.”

The Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association is using half its $250,000 on its own advertising blast to draw workers.

The average restaurateur needs to hire between four and 10 people, according to Shaun Jeffrey, the association’s executive director.

Hiring is especially urgent as patio season begins, he said.

“We had a very delayed spring, which was actually a little bit helpful because we didn’t have the staff to staff (restaurants) anyways,” he said.

The other half of the funding — which Jeffrey said the association received early last month — went to a recruitment grant for eateries. Restaurants could apply for up to $2,000 to cover recruiting expenses. The application window has ended.

“After 24 months of the pandemic, there isn’t a lot of extra cash for a lot of these operators,” Jeffrey said.

Popiel said Hyatt House pays above minimum wage. Hours and unpredictability are likely the biggest reasons the hospitality industry is struggling to attract workers, both he and Scott Jocelyn, president of the Manitoba Hotel Association, said.

“Quite frankly, it’s a labour market. People can pick and choose where they want to work,” Economic Development Minister Cliff Cullen said. “There is plenty of potential for people to seek different occupations, and we’ve seen that happen throughout the pandemic.”

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Economic Development Minister Cliff Cullen makes an announcement about provincial funding for COVID recovery on Tuesday.

The province has offered different funds for people looking to upskill, Cullen noted, adding that minimum wage increases are based on a cost of living formula.

The government might “have a conversation” on where minimum wage is at compared to the cost of living prior to October’s bump, Cullen said.

Food and beverage producers across the province are sometimes operating with 75 per cent of needed staff, according to Michael Mikulak, Food and Beverage Manitoba’s executive director. “There’s a lot of burnout,” Mikulak said. “There’s a lot of people who’ve worked through the pandemic that are hitting an end and saying, ‘I don’t have anything left.’”

It’s because there’s been increased demand for local products during the pandemic, Mikulak said. His association is using its $250,000 to research and develop a plan on upscaling Manitoban producers’ businesses.

“A lot of small farmers, they’re selling out,” Mikulak said. “It’s a big change, going from selling in a small farmers market to going wholesale, so they need that support.”

Food and Beverage Manitoba is partnering with Community Futures Manitoba; the group will interview producers across the province to identify gaps in getting items from farm to grocery store.

The $250,000 is a start, Mikulak said. But, he’s looking to make that money grow with federal government funding.

“We need to have some food security for ourselves,” he said, noting grocers’ pandemic-era empty shelves.

Supply Chain Canada’s Manitoba branch is using its quarter million to identify how supply chains can become more circular and sustainable, according to executive director Rick Reid.

“We recognize that companies are going to need to move this way,” Reid said.

Carbon taxes are one example of what’s to come, he said. The non-profit will speak with businesses and academics about a sustainable future. It will likely release a report at the end of June, Reid said.

“The more we can (be sustainable), the more it’s going to make Manitoba more competitive,” Reid said.

The provincial funding comes through Ottawa’s labour market transfer agreements.

Gabrielle Piché

Gabrielle Piché

Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.

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