Restaurant owners in the Hazeltons say they are struggling to find good workers because camp jobs in the resource industries are draining the local employee pool.
Historic B.C. Cafe owner and chef Brad Wilson said finding skilled service workers in the Hazeltons was becoming increasingly difficult because camp jobs, which can pay up to $350 per day in B.C., were luring away the region’s best cooks and kitchen workers.
He said it was impossible for small-business owners like himself to compete with the salaries being offered for camp cooks and kitchen staff.
“I’m competing bigtime [with the camps],” said Wilson.
“Anybody with a ticket, anybody with any skill set in the kitchen, you can make $80 a day here or make $300 a day out at camp.”
He said he had trained unskilled people to work in his kitchen, only to lose them to a camp job after they had gained experience.
“Once I have taken somebody who has no skill set and trained them, given them the skills to work in a kitchen, it’s not long before they take those skills and go work in camp,” said Wilson.
Staff retention is also a problem for Boat’s Soup & Juice Bar manager Rene Chandler, but she believes camp jobs have already bled the local labour market dry.
“The people that we want are already in camps so they just don’t materialise,” said Chandler.
“Who wants to work for $60 when they can work for $300 [a day].”
Another local eatery, Rob’s Restaurant in New Hazelton, announced on Facebook in August that it was closing due to a shortage of staff.
The Upper Skeena Development Centre in Hazelton offers guidance to job-seekers who want to enter the workforce.
Executive director Alice Smith said she had noticed an increase in the number of entry-level jobs being advertised in the Hazeltons.
She believes the current labour shortage in the service industry will be temporary, and that it is probably caused by seasonal workers who are employed elsewhere in the short-term.
However, she noted higher-paying entry-level jobs in trades and resources are giving job-seekers more options outside the retail and hospitality industries.
“I think some people are very suited to [service industry] work but there is lots of opportunity now to look at industry, for example gas and oil, mining, we’ve always seen a need for Class 1 truck drivers,” said Smith.
“There’s a lot of need for welders, people who are able to work in camp environments and have the certification that goes along with those jobs.”
Northwest Community College regional contracts officer Sue-Ann Norton said the college was running a Cook’s Helper program to meet a predicted need for more camp cooks and kitchen workers in the future.
The four-month-long program, which not only teaches students how to cook but prepares them for entry to the workforce, started in Gitsequkla this week.
Although anyone can sign up for the program at the college’s Terrace campus, in Gitsequkla it is being offered to 12 First Nation students through the B.C. government’s Aboriginal Service Plan.
The same program has also run in Moricetown, Greenville and Masset.
Smith said it would give First Nation students the skills to capitalise on opportunities which arise as industrial development in the region increases.
“[The provincial government] has identified that cooks, cook’s helpers and chefs are going to be needed throughout this entire region,” said Norton.
“It’s not necessarily specific to the camp industry but that being said, there could be a lot of camps going up in this area if everything goes through.
“Say if there is a transmission line or a pipeline or a gold mine, if they need to have a camp, these students, these graduates would be a great pool of employees to draw from.”
She said the college tailors its course offerings to meet current and future industry needs.
“Over the years, because of what is going on in our part of British Columbia and because of the predicted need for so many jobs our focus has shifted to workforce training,” said Norton.
“Our goal is to get people ready for the jobs that are coming and for people that are already in the jobs to try and maybe upgrade or add additional education to their portfolios.”