Grassroots Restaurant Group co-owner Dale Mackay says that, once upon a time, an ad for a dishwasher position at one of his eateries would receive dozens of replies right away.
But lately, he says he and his management team have to put in extra effort to make new hires.
“In the last six months to a year we’ve had to go to places like Indeed, a paid service,” he told Global News.
“So you’re having to seek them out a bit more.”
He said he’s been finding employees through other non-traditional routes too.
“The last few people we found, we found through current employees who reached out to people they knew who maybe weren’t too happy in their current jobs,” Mackay said.
“That seems to be a little bit better of a way of getting someone who is willing to stick around.”
New Statistics Canada data shows that while job vacancies in the accommodation and food services sectors have slightly declined since last quarter, they’re still up 62,600 Canada-wide over the first quarter of 2020.
Mackay said that, while business is growing, it hasn’t climbed back to pre-pandemic levels and that thanks to a stable core of staff, he’s managed to keep disruptions to a minimum.
But Hospitality Saskatchewan president and CEO Jim Bence said that from what he’s hearing, many business owners can’t say the same.
“He managed to keep all his outlets open throughout the pandemic but now finds himself in a position where he’s going to have to contract,” he said.
“He’s looking at reducing hours in his restaurants, not being able to sell as many rooms because he doesn’t have the staff to clean them. This is the kind of story we’re hearing over and over. It’s really bad out there.”
He said he heard from another restaurant owner whose head chef departed after many years to take a more junior role elsewhere because of burnout.
When it comes to causes, Bence suspects many workers who were laid off during the pandemic may have gone on to find work in other industries.
Mackay said he thinks the same, adding he thinks many who were laid off may have been deterred from seeking other hospitality roles because they could potentially earn as much as they had been through pandemic relief measures.
Some, though, may be demanding higher wages than are currently on offer in the industry.
Statistics Canada data on reservation wages shows that on average, Canada-wide, the lowest hourly wage at which someone was willing to take a position in the sector was 15.8 per cent higher than the average hourly offered wage.
Bence said business owners can adapt by raising prices, but that consumers would likely have to bear the weight, and that doing so is a daunting prospect as inflation increases competition for consumer dollars while the industry is still in recovery.
“It really comes down to the operator having to make some tough decisions on if they can make any money at all,” Bence said.
“How much will the consumer bear, with regards to the inflation, and will you even have enough workers to serve the food?”
As far as solutions go, Bence said he’s having conversations with the federal government about attracting more workers to the sector from overseas, but adds that employers will have to “leave no stone unturned” as they seek to fill roles.
Labour demand in the sector, meanwhile, is still down compared with pre-pandemic levels by 10.8 per cent.
Mackay adds that, even before the pandemic, hiring in the hospitality industry was a challenging endeavour.
“If we were doing pre-pandemic numbers right now, we’d be scrambling because of not having enough staff,” he said.
“For us, we’re just trying to treat people well and attract them that way.”
Saskatchewan’s overall job vacancy rate in the first quarter of 2022 was 4.2 per cent.