As COVID-19 restrictions ease, there has been a dramatic shift in Alberta’s labour market that has some industries scrambling to find workers.
Modern Steak currently has 150 employees but will soon be opening up a new location and needs another 80 workers.
The Calgary company told Global News it has been an unforeseen struggle.
“I personally never expected it to be this difficult to get people in the door,” Modern Group’s director of operations Darren Fabian said.
“With (federal aid) subsidies being extended and also with summer vacations going on, it’s been a challenge to get the appropriate amount of bodies.”
It’s a challenge largely facing Alberta’s hospitality and retail industries, according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
“Employees have either moved on to find other work or are simply not comfortable returning,” the CFIB’s director of provincial affairs for Alberta Annie Dormuth told Global News.
The CFIB is set to release new numbers that suggest 64 per cent of small businesses in Alberta currently face staff shortages.
A recent wage survey also showed small businesses are increasing their wages to attract workers back, with hourly wages for the hospitality and retail industries averaging $21 and $20 respectively.
Then there are the “extras,” Dormuth said.
“We are hearing small businesses are offering more incentives such as signing bonuses,” she added.
Molly Maid Grande Prairie was one of those businesses. Co-owner Sarah Brinkman said she lost some of her staff during COVID-19.
Customers weren’t getting their homes cleaned, so there wasn’t much of a need for cleaners. When activity picked back up, the business had to think creatively to get staff back.
They decided on signing bonuses, which have now ended.
“It’s worked out in our favour quite well,” Brinkman told Global News. “We’ve retained staff and not only that but it’s worked out in many cases of building relationships with our staff.”
Modern Steak is currently offering a comprehensive retention and benefits package, complete with dental benefits.
Fabian said the incentives are not only for new employees but also for existing ones as well, which will hopefully help to retain valued employees.
“I think it’s about more than just the paycheque for our workforce now,” he said.
“It’s about being involved and being part of something that they’re proud of.”
Dormuth added the CFIB will continue to closely monitor these worker shortages as reopening continues and federal aid programs wind down.
She told Global News the entire situation is taking a toll on small businesses because not only are owners having to put in a lot of extra hours but also the extra incentives are tough for those still struggling to come back from 18 months of restrictions.
“That also affects their overall overhead with rent and property taxes and wages,” Dormuth said, “especially at a time when only 30 per cent are making normal sales for this time of year.”
Fabian believes it’s a price businesses now have to pay to stay competitive and be a place where people want to work.
“I think this is the wake-up call for our industry as a whole to change the way we do things — top to bottom, start to finish.”