By Yolanda Ridge, Rossland News
If career training (or retraining) is part of your new years resolution, you might want to consider connecting (or reconnecting) with your inner Jamie Oliver and signing up for culinary school.
You may not become a celebrity chef, but in the current labour market finding employment as a professional cook may be as close as it comes to a sure thing.
Based on the results of a 2013 study by the BC Tourism Labour Market Strategy (TLMS) 18,620 new jobs will open up for chefs, food counter attendants & kitchen helpers between 2011 and 2020, with 589 of those positions located in the Kootenay Rockies region.
The predicted shortage of cooks is so significant that the TLMS study is being expanded to look at the demand for skilled kitchen workers in industries besides tourism—namely the oil and gas sector, care homes and other institutions.
“We need to know how many culinary jobs are likely to become available,” explained Arlene Keis, CEO of go2 (BC’s tourism and hospitality human resource association), “so that B.C. can come up with a strategy for recruiting and training people to fill these positions.”
Although the number of post-secondary tourism training programs in B.C. increased from 200 to 300 between 2003 and 2011, with the largest growth in professional cook programs, there is no way the province can train enough people to meet the demand.
“An increase in professional training opportunities is necessary,” said Keis, “but culinary programs are not easily fitted into the average post-secondary institution due to the need for experienced educators and specialized equipment.”
Bob Falle, chair of the School of Hospitality and Tourism which runs the Professional Cooking program at Selkirk College in Nelson agrees.
“The current demand for trained cooks presently exceeds the number of students we have in our program,” he said.
But according to Falle, more cooking schools may not be the solution. “Additional training opportunities have been attempted over the past year with the prep cook program,” he said in reference to the expansion of the program at Selkirk.
“However, there weren’t enough applicants to fill the program. Our current enrollment has been low due to a very low unemployment rate in the area.”
“There is a substantial increase in demand for trained cooks in the province,” Falle confirms.
“We get calls weekly from employers from all over the region; East and West Kootenays and beyond.”
For these reasons, go2 will be looking outside our province’s employment rich labour pool and recruiting international culinary students to do work experience here in B.C. “It is important to give Canadians first opportunity,” said Keis, “but if there are no Canadians to fill the gap, we need to look elsewhere.”
Although the TMLS numbers can not be broken down by city or areas within the six tourist regions, anecdotal evidence suggests that attracting people from elsewhere has not been a significant challenge for Rossland.
Red Mountain had no issues staffing their operations, states Don Thompson, vice-president operations for the resort, and that includes their new food stop at the bottom of Grey, Wiener Take All.
Both Red Mountain Village and the Prestige Mountain Resort did have to advertise heavily to fill housekeeping positions this season, however, lending credit to other findings from the TMLS study which also predicts a shortage of cleaners, servers, managers, bartenders, front desk clerks, recreation and sport instructors, and bus and taxi drivers across B.C.
Between 2011 and 2020, the expected number of new job openings in the Kootenay Rockies tourism region totals 3,089 (three per cent of the provincial total for this period) in accordance with a projected average regional labour demand growth rate of 1.3 per cent.
Growth is obviously good, but only if there are enough resources to fill the need. B.C. TMLS is currently developing a strategy to meet this challenge. And for them, the demand for tourism employees in remote areas requires unique consideration.
“Rural communities are not for everyone,” said Keis.
“We need to target people who are looking for that lifestyle or people who are already living there.”
Recruiting professionals in their 50s who are thinking about retirement to fill positions that do not need significant training like customer service is one such strategy.
Also family members of people moving into the community to fill jobs in other industries or people outside BC and Canada who are willing to do temporary, seasonal work.
“Everyone’s heard of Vancouver and Whistler,” said Keis. “We need to raise the profile of more rural, but equally beautiful and inviting places.”
Teaching employers that there are other things people value besides wages is another strategy. “BC has the highest tourism wages in the country but it is still hard to compete with industries like mining,” explained Keis.
Focusing on flexibility, job satisfaction, recreational opportunities, lower cost of living – these are the perks of filling tourism positions in rural areas.
“Tourism is strong in B.C.,” said Keis, “because we have a great product and because the province has listed tourism as one of the eight sectors they want to grow.”
In short, people want to come here. And when they come, they need to eat. So get out that chef’s hat and prepare to dig in—a career in tourism could be your recipe for success.