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‘We need more people’: Staffing shortages hit Manitoba cottage country

Click to play video: 'Staffing shortages at Manitoba summer hotspots' Staffing shortages at Manitoba summer hotspots
People are starting to flock into Gimli today for the Islandic Festival of Manitoba. Global's Michelle Karlenzig tells us, people going may need to pack some patience - as staff shortages at local businesses could cause long lineups. – Jul 29, 2022

As throngs of people head out to Gimli for a summer getaway, visitors are being warned to pack their patience along with swim suits and sunglasses.

The Gimli Chamber of Commerce says a shortage of staff may mean slower service and reduced hours for some businesses this summer.

Read more: World’s strongest men to compete in Gimli at Icelandic Festival of Manitoba

The timing couldn’t be worse as the Icelandic Festival of Manitoba kicks off Friday, an event that brings thousands to the lakeside community.

“I’d like to say no, that it’s good, that it’s all under control, but the truth of the matter is yes, we’re pretty anxious about the weekend,” admits Cheryl Buhler, who owns Gimli’s Robin’s Donuts and is a co-chair of the Gimli Chamber of Commerce.

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“We’re doing our best, we want you to be here, we’re going to serve you with a smile on our faces.

“Just be patient, if you do see a line, we’re going to get to you as soon as we can.”

Read more: Canadian workers leaving pandemic-stricken sectors. Where are they going?

Buhler says a survey of chamber businesses at the start of summer showed there were more than 100 staff vacancies heading into the busy season.

She’s not sure exactly why the Interlake community is having trouble filling positions — anecdotally she notes there’s fewer university students coming up this summer — but she knows it’s not just a local problem.

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Businesses across Manitoba, all over the country in fact, have reported having trouble finding staff since COVID-19 restrictions lifted.

Canada’s restaurant industry was especially hard hit by two years of shutdowns, repeated layoffs and strict capacity limits. About 13,000 eateries across the country closed permanently.

Read more: Canadian restaurants grapple with staff shortages, rising costs

The situation prompted an exodus of workers from the sector as people sought more steady incomes, switched fields or went back to school. Canada also welcomed fewer immigrants during the pandemic, newcomers that sometimes find work in the restaurant industry.

Compounding the issue now is Canada’s rock-bottom unemployment rate, which Statistics Canada said hit 5.2 per cent in April.

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In Gimli, Buhler says the chamber worked to bring Ukrainian refugees out to fill some of the vacant jobs this summer — offering two months of free housing and food as an incentive — but businesses are still short-staffed, she said.

Read more: 1 in 4 Canadian workers who deal with the public face increased aggression, conflict: survey

While she says there’s been no businesses forced to close over the staffing issues, many, including her restaurant, have reduced hours to stay afloat.

“We just need more people,” she said.

Down the road from the Robin’s Donuts the owners of Smile Thai Restaurant say they consider themselves lucky.

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Glen Sikorski and Thaikan Phanad say while they’ve got their work cut out for them with shortages, they’ve found a creative way to combat the problem — they’re taking advantage of Gimli’s reputation as a destination for aspiring pilots.

“We’ve had at least four or five young Thailand people come to Gimli to learn to fly, so word gets around and they all work at the restaurant while they’re learning to fly planes,” says Sikorski, adding despite the troubles, most businesses are just happy to be back.

Click to play video: 'Manitoba hotels face staffing challenges' Manitoba hotels face staffing challenges
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“Generally speaking, the businesses in Gimli are feeling like they’re glad that tough part of the pandemic isn’t here right now, and that has made their businesses get stronger.”

Buhler says for the most part visitors to Gimli have been patient and understanding this summer, something she hopes carries over through this weekend’s festival.

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“They can see, when they go for ice-cream, that there’s a lineup … they’re chatting with each other and being good to the servers, so that’s great,” she said.

“We’re ready for you and we’re going to do the best we can to make sure you have an awesome experience in Gimli.”

— with files from Global’s Michelle Karlenzig and The Canadian Press

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