No day at the beach: Ontario tourist town hit hard by labour shortages

No day at the beach: Ontario tourist town hit hard by labour shortages

A popular beach destination in southwestern Ontario is far from immune to Canada’s labour shortage, but one restaurant is taking a unique approach to try to fill positions.

GT’s On The Beach in Port Stanley, Ont. — about a 40-minute drive south of London — recently posted online that it is looking to hire mature or retired candidates for cleaning and setup.

Andy Gates, who owns GT’s with his wife Carol, told Motorcycle accident toronto today that traditional hiring methods simply weren’t working. He said the business, which runs seasonally from the start of May to late September, begins its hiring process in January and has struggled to fill the cleaning position.

“We thought outside the box and thought, OK, ‘Who can we target who this might be of interest to?’” he explained.

“Instead of looking for somebody full-time, could I get three or four mature people who are looking to find something to do, make a little extra money?”

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The Kettle Creek Inn in Port Stanley, Ont.

supplied by Jean Vedova

Jean Vedova, owner of the Kettle Creek Inn, could empathize with the struggle to fill positions. She told Motorcycle accident toronto today she’s ecstatic to reopen the kitchen for May 24 with new chef Nikola Gucanni and sous-chef Sarah Martins, but last year was a different story.

“For the last couple of years, it’s been very difficult to find enough good staff, particularly for the kitchen. That’s a thankless place in order to be able to work,” she explained.

“We were noted for our incredible dining and that’s why last July, when things came crashing down, we really had to just close the kitchen totally because to try to fill that gap was going to be impossible. If it was possibly filled, the worry was that we would not be able to deliver the same product and there would be nothing worse than getting a bad reputation.”

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Vedova said they “tried everything under the sun” to fill the positions and were offering above minimum wage, but people would apply and not even show up for interviews.

She added that Port Stanley is a bit unique as it faces added pressures from recent growth and a lack of transportation options.

“Youth, if they live in London, they may be keen to be able to work in Port Stanley, but if they don’t have a car or a method of getting here, it’s not going to happen. So that is an issue, that’s always been an issue,” she said.

“But the issue has been magnified because there has been I’ll call an explosion of building down here in Port Stanley, which is positive — I’m not negating that — it’s just that it’s sort of like a tug-of-war between people coming in and buying and building expensive houses and people buying smaller places and renovating. And it just becomes more difficult for everybody else.”

Vedova said businesses, especially in the restaurant industry, more than ever are relying upon “a very good source of talent and that would be the immigrants that are coming into our country who are so keen to get jobs and to contribute to Canada and to the industry.”

Outdoor dining at the Kettle Creek Inn in Port Stanley, Ont.

supplied by Jean Vedova

Paul Jenkins, CEO of the St. Thomas and District Chamber of Commerce, lives within walking distance of the Kettle Creek Inn and said the labour shortage is a multilayered issue.

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“There’s certain challenges both in the speed of growth in the community, the cost of housing,” he said.

“That’s actually one of the challenges in terms of being able to fill roles in communities that are tourist-based, where it’s often difficult for the people working there to actually be able to afford to live there to do that.”

Businesses in Port Stanley list employee recruitment and retention as the second most pressing concern after inflation, according to a pulse survey the chamber conducted this spring.

Jenkins said the chamber is doing what it can to help, partnering with groups to host job fairs and information sessions.

“We started off by looking at the low-hanging fruit of what we can do to support that. But the issues aren’t specific to Port Stanley, aren’t specific to southwestern Ontario. The competition for labour is prevalent across, quite honestly, the continent, not even just Canada.”

He believes we’ve hit bottom on the pressure for labour and said, anecdotally, there have been fewer instances of “folks poaching folks from other businesses.” However, “there is no quick fix” and he expects similar questions about labour to pop up again next year.

In the interim, the chamber is focusing on creating space to get people into the labour force “who maybe are on the margins of it,” on supporting businesses to empower staff to get into leadership roles to improve retention, and on making the region attractive to new Canadians.

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“How do we actually attract them to smaller communities in Ontario, provide a space for them to succeed, a community for them to tap into?”

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