The jobs board at the Fernie WorkBC centre in October 2018 when there were over 260 job vacancies in the Elk Valley. The labour market is in slightly better shape, however, local employers are still looking to fill over 150 positions. File photo

New program to get Elk Valley youth into workforce

Elk Valley once again facing labour shortage with over 150 job vacancies

A new four-week program to get young people into the workforce could be the answer to the Elk Valley’s staffing woes.

The region is once again facing a critical labour shortage with over 150 job vacancies.

There is strong demand for workers in all sectors, however, the tourism, hospitality and construction industries are the hardest hit.

Fernie WorkBC Centre Employer Liaison Brenda Sutherland said employers are using every means available to find staff; advertising through WorkBC, online job service agencies like Indeed, social media, local business networks and word of mouth.

Some are offering special benefits like housing or a Fernie Alpine Resort season pass to entice workers.

LOOK BACK: Employers buy property to attract workers

One of the measures being taken to address the labour shortage is the launch of the Aspire program, which is funded by the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training.

“The objective of the Aspire program is to increase the labour force participation and reduce the unemployment rate of young adults in British Columbia facing barriers to employment,” said Sutherland.

To be eligible, you must be aged 18-24, living in B.C., not a full-time student and either unemployed or underemployed.

Program participants are paid minimum wage to attend a four-week facilitated classroom component, where they learn essential life and occupational skills.

This is followed by individualized job placement and wrap around supports with an employer.

Elk Valley youth have typically been underrepresented in the workforce, however, Sutherland said there are a number of factors contributing to the labour shortage.

LOOK BACK: Elk Valley facing critical labour shortage

“Many of the jobs don’t offer year-round employment as they are seasonal in nature,” she said. “Housing is limited which also drives up the cost of living and challenges people in lower income jobs to remain in the community.”

Sutherland said many workers live in shared accommodation facilities, which can be difficult for some people, while others are couch surfing with friends and family as they search for permanent accommodation.

Bridge Bistro is one of the many local employers looking for staff.

The restaurant currently has 20 employees and is recruiting for three part-time and two full-time cooks for the summer.

“Every summer we boost our staff because the summer business is bigger than the winter for us,” said co-owner Lillis Perreault.

“I would say we’ve been short-staffed every summer for the last four years.”

Bridge Bistro has been advertising these positions for months but only received a handful of applications.

Perreault said the restaurant may have to reduce its trading hours if suitable applicants can’t be found.

She believes the Elk Valley’s labour shortage is an immigration issue and the result of the Canadian government’s decision to restrict or exclude some countries from the temporary work permit program.

“I don’t necessarily think that it’s all about town and accommodation,” said Perreault.

“I think that the government needs to step in and start looking at what they’re doing when they’re stopping the temporary foreign workers program. We need people, everywhere.”

Last year, WorkBC hosted the Valley’s first spring job fair to try to fill over 260 job vacancies. It is looking to partner or host similar events, which will be promoted through local media and online.

LOOK BACK: Worker shortage prompts job fair

LOOK BACK: Spring job fair to become annual event

Sutherland said there are many ongoing supports to employers offered through WorkBC, including wage subsidies for new employees requiring skill training and work experience.

For more details, drop into the Fernie office at 302 2nd Avenue, call 250-423-4204 or visit

WorkBC is now open until 6 p.m. on Thursdays to accommodate those that have difficulty coming into the office during regular office hours (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.).

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