Alberta small business owners are hopeful they won’t have to lockdown again as COVID-19 restrictions ease across the province, but the uncertainty has led to extreme staff shortages for some industries.
Modern Steak has 150 employees, but now has the difficult task of hiring 80 new workers to staff a new location.
“I would have never thought it would be this hard to get employment in the summer,” said Darren Fabian, Modern Group’s director of operations.
“Typically, this is the season where we’re flooded with applicants, and we have to turn people away, but it’s the exact opposite right now, it’s a struggle to get people in the door and just to show up for interviews.”
Fabian adds that the pandemic has been a struggle with more expensive supply chain costs along with flat revenues and fixed costs like rent and property taxes.
Hiring staff has been a challenge on top of it all, which is why Modern Steak is hosting a hiring fair on August 14.
The goal is to obtain long-term commitments from employees by offering them attractive incentives.
“I don’t think there is any small business on the street that is not looking for someone right now so that’s a challenge and it’s really a buyers market.” Fabian said.
“That’s why we’re extending our health and wellness benefits to all of our staff, not just management. We’re also offering annual retention bonuses.”
Other small businesses like Central Auto Care in Okotoks have also noticed an increase in interest for automotive technician positions after introducing a $1,000 signing bonus for its applicants.
The auto repair shop had just two workers during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and suffered severe staff shortages, but has since managed to hire on a full team.
“We hire apprentices and we help them grow,” said owner Troy Hack. “We offer multiple things like sign-on bonuses, time off, and formal training.”
“There’s a lot of tools our employees have to buy to keep up with industry and technology so anything our staff needs, I’ll be there to help them.”
LETHBRIDGE BUSINESSES STRUGGLE TO FIND STAFF
In Lethbridge, the sting of staffing shortages is being felt in the service and construction sectors.
With roughly 10,000 post-secondary students flocking to the city each year, there’s generally an abundance of young, eager workers seeking employment each summer.
However, with classes transitioning to online for this past school year, the city’s student population has declined significantly leaving employers scrambling to fill a handful of positions.
“On top of that, we also don’t have access to our foreign workers like we’re used to,” said Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce CEO Cyndi Vos.
“That’s also a huge variable especially in the service industry. They’re finding that not having that access to that employee base is really causing some hurdles for them.”
Telegraph Taphouse is one business that’s been feeling the pressure.
They’ve been forced to close their doors on Sundays and Mondays to give staff a much needed break from the hustle.
“It’s super stressful when we don’t have enough staff here,” said the taphouse’s manager Tracey Rogerson.
“All of us are going above and beyond to do a little bit extra. For instance, I did work one day in the kitchen which I have never done before.”
The Telegraph Taphouse is another business that’s decided to offer full-time staff added benefits in an effort to entice people to send in a resume.
So far this summer the pub has only received two applications, which Rogerson said is unheard of.
LONG ROAD AHEAD FOR SMALL BUSINESS RECOVERY
According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), roughly 64 per cent of small businesses in Alberta are facing staff shortage.
CFIB Alberta Provincial Affairs Director, Annie Dormuth says the hospitality and retail industries are seeing the biggest challenges right now.
She notes that help wanted signs at Alberta restaurants are as prevalent as ever, but COVID-19 restrictions are creating hesitancy amongst prospective and former employees.
“You have to consider that this has been 17 months of unreliable work in and out of restrictions, which may have caused some employees to move on to find more reliable or stable work,” Dormuth said.
“We also anticipate that maybe perhaps some of the EI programs and benefits programs might be contributing to that as well so it could be all of these factors contributing to the shortage of labor that some industries are facing right now.”
In a recent CFIB wage survey, small businesses have increased their hourly wages to $21 and $20 for the hospitality and retail industries respectively, all in an effort to attract workers back.