Is there a labour shortage?

The question of whether there is a labour shortage in the area, as economic development people are trumpeting, became more complicated Wednesday at the annual Meaford and area job fair.

The fair attracted at least a few hundred people and more than 30 employers from around the area, both local and regional.

Interestingly, with the exception of Blue Mountain Resort, no employers were suggesting they were really seeing signs of a labour shortage. Instead, finding people with the right qualities and qualifications was more difficult than finding applicants in general.

Heather Genoe from Blue Mountain Resort said she thought there were several reasons for the difficulty it has attracting local workers.

“I find some of the positions are hard to fill locally,” she said. “We definitely struggle to find applicants and retain them in the local area. We do have to fill some of our positions internationally.

I think a lot of it has to do with wages,” Genoe added. “A lot of our jobs are entry-level, which means we pay between $14 and $15 an hour. A lot of people who are looking for work can’t afford to live off of that, so I think that might be part of the problem.”

The resort has the most trouble recruiting housekeeping workers, which has been the case for years. However, the resort had little success in recruiting from the Owen Sound area, which should be a prime source of workers.

Several years ago the resort offered a shuttle for workers from the Owen Sound/Meaford area, Genoe said, but the service was stopped after it was clear there was a lack of interest and workers to make it viable.

“One of our issues is definitely transportation,” she said. “We’re hoping if we could get enough interest we could start the program up again. One of our jobs here today is to find out how much of an issue it is. If we can start running a bus again, we will.”

Most of the other companies present seemed puzzled by the question. Many indicated they weren’t aware of the suggestions there is a labour shortage, while others had heard rumblings there was a problem in some industries but it hadn’t affected them.

Adam Oates, the facility maintenance manager at Cranberry Resort, said it wasn’t an issue.

“We don’t notice it a lot here,” Oates said.

The resort is Collingwood’s largest employer, he added, so there is always some staff turnover.

Sherry Fiske was on hand representing Scenic Caves Nature Adventures.

“I’m hearing there’s a problem (with a labour shortage in some places) but we haven’t had it in the past,” she said. “We always have some people returning every year, and we’ve always been able to fill all our spots, so we’re hoping for the best this year.”

Interestingly, while the job fair was on, a media outlet was publishing a report about the labour shortage locally.

The report said the director of the Four County Labour Market Planning Board, which represents Grey-Bruce along along with the Stratford region, told Bruce County council that more than 18,000 people had left the labour force in the area it serves over the last several years.

While some businesses, such as McDonalds and Blue Mountain Resort, are struggling to find workers locally, other employers cast doubt on the suggestion there is a labour shortage.

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