Fernie from above. Phil McLachlan/The Free Press

Worker shortage prompts job fair

In Fernie, there are over 200 positions available and nobody to fill them.

In the past six years that EK Employment has been in Fernie, they have not had to host a job fair in the spring, only in the winter.

That changed this year, due to a shortage of workers that the employment specialist is labeling a crisis.

“We’re having to put on this spring job fair because our employers are in desperate need of workers,” said marketing and community engagement liaison for the Elk Valley’s EK Employment branch, Brenda Sutherland.

In Fernie, there are over 200 positions available, approximately 30 positions at one grocery store, and nobody to fill them. The job fair will take May 3, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Fernie Family Centre. Twenty-eight employers will be attending.

Although many of the available jobs fall into the tourism and hospitality category, there are also many available in contracting and construction, as well as early childhood education and childcare.

Sutherland says that some contractors are having to turn down work due to lack of staff.

“It’s actually a crisis,” she said. “It’s never been this bad.”

Sutherland has even begun reaching out to residents in surrounding communities such as Cranbrook, and the Crowsnest Pass in a desperate attempt to fill these positions. She admitted that the culture in these places is much different that in Fernie.

When spring rolls around, international visitors and seasonal workers leave for other places. Trying to keep them in Fernie during the shoulder season is difficult, she said. In saying this, she believes more youth involvement would make a difference.

The problem could be attributed to low employment of local youth. According to EK Employment, 10 to 15 per cent of youth in Grades 10 to 12 are employed or looking for employment.

The remaining 85-90 per cent of this age group are not in the labour market.

Sutherland says this could be due to summer holidays, or too many activities alongside school.

“We just can’t rely on our youth to fill the need, the way we have in the past,” she said.

“It’s coming to the point where big restaurants are opening late or closing early.” She recognizes that housing in Fernie is not always affordable for everyone that comes here.

This is why she wants to tap into the youth market while they’re still living at home. However, an evident lack of interest isn’t helping the issue.

Sutherland says there are still positions available for employers who wish to attend the job fair and anyone wishing to do so can contact her at brendas@ekemployment.org or 250-423-4204.

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