Critical seasonal staffing shortage

Rural attractions forced to cut back offerings due to lack of workers

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Staffing shortages over the August long weekend threw a Lac du Bonnet golf club into the rough while slicing its clubhouse hours.

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Staffing shortages over the August long weekend threw a Lac du Bonnet golf club into the rough while slicing its clubhouse hours.

Other seasonal attractions in the province are also desperate for workers, and are finding themselves ‘limited to what we can offer.’

A lack of staff at the Black Bear Golf Club forced manager Jacquie Gould to close her kitchen early for two consecutive days over the August long weekend.

It was a difficult decision to make on a busy weekend, she said.

“Everybody couldn’t believe it, but at four o’clock, we closed down,” Gould said. “My heart saddens because I want to be able to give (customers) all I can, but we can’t. We just don’t have the people.”

A lack of staff at the Black Bear Golf Club forced manager Jacquie Gould to close her kitchen early for two consecutive days over the August long weekend. (Supplied)

Gould’s husband, Allan, owns the nine-hole golf course in Lac du Bonnet, and she has worked beside him for 15 years.

They used to have an abundance of applicants every season. Now, it’s a challenge to staff a skeleton crew, she said.

Black Bear bumped its wages up to $18 per hour this season to attract more employees, but the club is still running short.

The restaurant has 16 staff. At a minimum, they need four more people, Gould said.

“Where is everybody?” she said, adding most of the current employees are local retirees who are hard-working, but not cut out for long hours.

Despite the demand for their services, seasonal businesses across the province are struggling to recruit and retain staff.

“Our visitation is higher than usual, and we are finding ourselves limited to what we can offer… It’s really frustrating,” said Chris Phillips, general manager of the Elkhorn Resort.

The resort runs year-round near Wasagaming, a popular tourist destination in Riding Mountain National Park.

Elkhorn had been suffering from staff shortages before summer began, but when the seasonal businesses opened up, every employer was competing for the same limited pool of applicants, Phillips said.

The business requires 100 staff to operate throughout a typical summer, but this year, they are short by 15.

As a result, Elkhorn has had to limit its restaurant hours and postpone opening a new outdoor patio.

Elkhorn Resort requires 100 staff to operate throughout a typical summer, but this year, they are short by 15. (Supplied)

“No one knows where all the people went, “Phillips said, adding staffing shortages are impacting all forms of Manitoban businesses.

A June report from Statistics Canada shows Manitoba’s unemployment rate dropped by 0.5 per cent in the second quarter of 2022, but the decrease is not because people are finding jobs.

Around 4,200 people left the local workforce in the year’s first quarter. Their departure is driving the trend, the report said.

Phillips believes that part of the problem — at least in remote areas — is a lack of affordable housing.

He points to Wasagaming as an example, saying that many landowners who formerly provided seasonal rentals have switched to a short-term model that is more lucrative for them.

Golf courses in Manitoba have also been feeling the pinch, although things have been improving, said Harry Brotchie, president of Lakeland Golf Management.

Lakeland manages 11 courses across Canada, including five in Manitoba.

“The golf business came through quite well,” Brotchie said. “We were open (during the pandemic) and probably, in general, had two of the best years ever.”

Still, what the industry gained in course revenue, it lost on the restaurant and hospitality side of the business, Brotchie said, adding that staffing shortages added to the struggle.

Brotchie believes CERB payments and health restrictions incentivized many people to leave the industry. Now, there is a smaller pool of seasonal workers, and people are finding it more difficult to find housing, he said.

Courses near the city are more accessible to staff, but courses in more remote areas like Hecla, Gimli and Falcon Lake often require people who already have accommodations in the area, he said.

tyler.searle@freepress.mb.ca

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