After four years in business, the owner of The Cup bistro and deli has had enough.
Financial challenges and a continued stream of long hours contributed to Steven Fecho’s decision to close his shop. But the straw that broke his back was an unreliable workforce.
“With a lack of staff I end up working long hours,” he said, while taking his first break of the day at 2 p.m. “With long hours, things get overlooked. Family is one of them.”
Squamish’s lack of a reliable labour pool has constantly hindered business, Fecho continued. Employees stick around for a few months before handing in their notices and heading to Vancouver and Whistler; lured by higher wages. Those who stay put don’t always show up to work, Fecho said, adding that it’s a constant gamble.
“[Squamish] is a great place to live, but the support for small business isn’t what it could be,” he said.
Fecho’s labour woes are echoed by Carole Bird. Having worked around the world, the co-owner of Two Birds Eatery said devoted employees are in short supply in Squamish.
“It has to be the worst thing I have come across in my entire life,” Bird said. “When you talk to everybody, you’ll find that everybody is dealing with the same thing.”
In Green Clean’s 2 ½ years of operation, owner Amy Remark has seen 30 employees come and go. And while the owner of the new Spice Root Kitchen and Bar currently has a great team, Ryan Fennell admitted at his last restaurant, the Brackendale Bistro, staffing was a challenge.
There are no easy answers to overcoming this issue, Fecho said. But the District of Squamish and Squamish Chamber of Commerce need to promote the community as a business destination, he said. Over time, such a campaign could help sustain local ventures and rally up pride in Squamish’s workforce, Fecho noted.
“It starts at the top of the town with an identity,” he said.
Building Squamish’s workforce and branding are on the district’s radar, said Dan McRae, the district’s economic sustainability coordinator. Last year, municipal officials interviewed 73 Squamish businesses to better understand local companies’ needs and wants. Of those, 79 per cent stated they had no problems retaining employees; however, 41 per cent said they encountered difficulty recruiting employees. When the same group was asked about growth constraints, a lack of skilled staff ranked sixth among their challenges.
The district shared its survey with Training Innovations, a community-based employment service. The Work B.C. Employment service centre considers employer needs to help meet the wants of both employees and employers, said Tara Mollete, Training Innovations program manager. The service has also hired an employer community liaison to help address such topics.
Starting a company is a big undertaking, McRae said. Just over half — 51 per cent — of small- to medium-sized businesses only survive for five years. District staff are in the process of highlighting some local companies beating those odds. The municipality has hired a team to create four videos showcasing local companies. The short films will be released online in December.
“Success attracts success,” McRae said.
Part of addressing employer staffing needs is education, said Elliot Moses, the Squamish Chamber of Commerce’s manager — that and allowing certifications to be transferable from province to province, Moses added.
A lack of skilled labour is the elephant in B.C.’s living room, he said. It’s an unfolding situation that is hitting communities throughout the province and one highlighted by the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, he noted.
“It is an ongoing issue,” Moses said.