Labour Shortage Issues – South Georgian Bay

“We are at a point now where acting is an absolute requirement”
–Andrew Siegwart – Blue Mountain Village Association

We have a labour shortage in our region, and the consequences will be damaging to our economy. That was the message Collingwood Councillors heard from Andrew Siegwart from the Blue Mountain Village Association at the regular meeting of council on Monday January 15th.

Mr. Siegwart painted a bleak picture of the current labour shortage challenges facing business owners in the region, and made it clear that action is needed now to correct the problems before the situation becomes even worse.

Special events and associated demands for staffing continue to grow throughout the region

Siegwart said the regional labour force has dropped by 11% or 18,700 people since 2004. He stated population ageing and out-migration are primary causes of the decline, citing the largest drop impacting the 25-54 age group.

He said most tourism employers are under staffed, stating that South Georgian Bay tourism operators had reported a shortage of at least 700 workers pre-winter 2017, adding more shortages are epected pre-winter 2018.

The situation is projected to continue for the next 10 to 20 years with key sectors impacted projected to be tourism, transportation, manufacturing and construction. Siegwart stated that the bottom line is that today’s South Georgian Bay labour pool is simply not meeting the employment and economic growth demands of tourism and other key industries that drive our economy.

Local Economic Factors Shaping Labour Shortage include rising housing costs, the lack of a transit strategy and regional network to allow for the free flow of workers and visotors, the lack of regional post-secondary tourism programs to keep students at home, a lack of childcare and an overall lack of understanding of the true scope of the tourism industry and its impact on employment and the regional economy.

The domino effect could certainly come in to play here.

Siegwart said the situation is causing economic risks. He is concerned that larger employers will raise wages to attract the best employees, causing heightened competition & wage compression that will negatively impact small businesses, entrepreneurs, and all other local employers.

Service decline could have a significant negative impact on the region’s regional brand, and a decline in service levels and lifestyle benefits to locals could negatively impact real estate values and residential growth.

Recommendations include the creation of more affordable housing. Collingwood already has a major affordable housing construction project underway on High Street at Second Street but more is needed throughout the region.

Post Secondary Tourism programming is needed.

Georgian College - Collingwood Campus

Siegwart said there is an exceptionally well built campus is in the region for post-secondary education but he believes it is being underutilized.

“There are currently not tourism related programs as a part of the curriculum in the programming and we believe that in order to be a centre of excellence like we are in terms of tourism, to be able to grow will require some post-secondary investment.”

Councillor Mike Edwards said that he at one time had proposed tourism related programs to be added to the college locally. He feels Georgian College has a great opportunity to deliver this service to the region.

“At one time we had proposed when I was on the Georgian College board, that we actually put that into a campus here and I believe it ended up in Orillia. I think that is where we really need to focus a lot.”

Siegwart agreed, saying the curriculum delivered in the community should match the demand for training in the community.

“Most smart cities have learning institutions which help them. If you think of Waterloo, it is known as a tech hub and it has post-secondary institutions in the community to help grow that. Our brand is tourism and recreation, summer and winter playground, that’s our brand and we need those supports to really get there.”

Collingwood Downtown Business Improvement General Manager Sue Nicholson says it is important for regional partners to share experiences and work together.

“The BIA is working with our regional partners to ensure that our members have the opportunity for input to assist the task force in developing a long term strategy that will ensure the continued economic success of our region. We recognize the importance of tourism to our downtown and that visitation impacts a wide range of business sectors. The recommendations that have been outlined detail key areas that need regional strategies developed in transit connectivity, diverse real estate inventories, tourism training at both the secondary and post-secondary levels and innovative child care services.”

A transit forum will be hosted in Collingwood in the near future to address perceived issues with improving regional service.

Province announces additional funding for local transit

The Collingwood Colltrans bus service presently connects the town with Blue Mountain Resort. Similarly, there is a connecting bus link between Collingwood and Wasaga Beach. Discussions will continue to work on ways to improve the overall transportation flow throughout the south Georgian Bay region.

More interviews with employers and employees will take place to better understand the labour shortage situation and it is hoped that a business case will be presented to the Province, County, Municipalities & development sector by June, 2018.

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