Dearth of help in the Highlands
Private businesses and public entities in Haliburton County seem to be having difficulty finding help for the summer, and employees in general, in some cases.
A number of businesses and local governments have been unable to fill positions, those often staffed by younger people and students, this year.
“I have a restaurant I might not be able to open because I don’t have enough people,” Shawn Chamberlin said plainly. Chamberlin is the owner of Minden’s Dominion Hotel, as well as the Grill on the Gull, locate d next door.
The latter may not open this season due to a shortage of staff.
“There’s a terrible shortage [of workers],” Chamberlin said. “It is definitely impacting our business community in some very real ways.”
Chamberlin told the paper it used to be he could attend a job fair during spring break and have 100 people lined up for the summertime. Now, it’s a struggle just to find a sufficient number of staff for his restaurants.
And while it’s obviously customary to increase staff numbers during the busy summer months, Chamberlin says the problem is not limited to seasonal positions.
“We’ve got full-time jobs, that means wintertime, too,” he said. “It’s almost a crisis in our community.”
Up Highway 35, at Carnarvon’s Mill Pond Restaurant, the story is the same.
Owners Brad and Anne Archer recently made an announcement that, for the first time in the 25 years they’ve owned the restaurant, they are reverting to their wintertime hours for the summer.
“Anne and I are in a position that we have never been in before,” the message reads. “We cannot find enough kitchen staff. Sure there has been some lean years, but this year we haven’t been able to get enough help to open full time. So starting in June, we will be working our winter hours, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday to Sunday, closed Mondays.”
Brad told the paper finding line cooks is the main issue, and that he’d been looking since last September to find one. His last full-time line cook left two years ago.
“What I’m looking for isn’t a seasonal position,” he said.
Seasonally, local governments are having a difficult time finding student employees for the summer.
The County of Haliburton did not receive a single application for a roving summer student position it was offering within its tourism department.
Tourism director Amanda Virtanen told the paper she believed finding a student for the position was a challenge since the hours were limited mostly to weekends.
“We have expanded the recruitment beyond just students, so that adults may apply as well,” Virtanen wrote in an email. “We are hoping we’re able to fill the position in the coming weeks.”
She indicated the tourism department has not generally had problems finding student summer employees in the past.
Minden Hills township has ads for summer students at the cultural centre, and in other areas of the township, that have not yielded results.
“And the arena, and the parks is the same situation,” Minden Hills community services director Mark Coleman told the paper. “It’s everything.”
“We start looking in January of each year for students,” Coleman said. “Sometimes, we’re only getting two or three applications in a posting.”
Coleman said sometimes, applicants do not meet the minimum requirements for the job posting, and in other situations, the township has offered jobs to students, who subsequently turn the positions down.
He said the trend started a couple of years ago, but that this summer, it is by far more pronounced.
Coleman said the township has been able to find two high school students to work part-time in parks and rec until they are able to work longer hours in the summer.
He added that approval of student job funding grants from upper levels of government can also sometimes be slow, and that there is not an overwhelming supply of young families in the community.
“It’s a whole combination of factors,” Coleman said, adding that the problem is not unique to Haliburton County, but is happening in the City of Kawartha Lakes as well.
There are fewer high school-aged students in Haliburton County than there were years ago.
Haliburton Highlands Secondary School principal Dan Marsden told the paper the school’s student population is currently about 450, and that five or six years ago, it would have been 100 to 150 students more than that.
“When I first began teaching here in 1995, our student population was almost 900,” Marsden wrote in an email to the paper.
Chamberlin believes housing, or lack thereof, is a contributing factor to the local labour shortage.
“I think one of the big problems that impacts our ability to find and keep a workforce, is any kind of housing,” he said, adding that past employees have had a hard time finding an affordable place to live. “We’ve had several people tell us they’re leaving the county.”
Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt remarked at a recent county council meeting that in the more than a quarter-century she’d lived in the county, she couldn’t recall seeing so many decent jobs posted in the local papers, jobs that were seemingly going unfilled.
Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin said it used to be that townships, offering good jobs at a decent rate of pay, would have no trouble finding workers.
“I’m more than a little perplexed,” Devolin said.