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Funding to address labour shortages in hospitality industry

Saskatchewan government announces $400,000 to Hospitality Saskatchewan towards boosting the workforce in the provincial hospitality sector.
Left to right at the hospitality funding announcement: MLA Muhammad Fiaz, Environment Minister Christine Tell, Hospitality Saskatchewan President and CEO Jim Bence, and Ryan Urzada, Chief Experience Officer of Atlas Hotel.

REGINA - The Saskatchewan government is coming through with funding to help the hospitality industry address its labour shortage issues.

At an announcement at the Atlas Hotel Tuesday morning, the province confirmed $400,000 would be going to Hospitality Saskatchewan. According to the announcement this will go strengthen and enhance the industry’s recruitment and retention initiatives.

“We need to pour the foundation and that’s what this really represents,” said Hospitality Saskatchewan President and CEO Jim Bence in speaking to reporters about where the $400,000 will go.

Bence said it is a two pronged approach, the first one being around recruitment, training and retention. 

“What is it that gives Saskatchewan its 'stickiness,' why do people stay here?” said Bence. “Those are great conversations to have, and in having those conversations, it was certainly illuminating and really allowed us to set up a strategy up as to how we can go about that.”

The second prong, he said, was “really what are we doing to enable our employers, because a big part of that stickiness is how are people on-boarded. So when they start with an organization, how is it that we make sure that they’re not just their basic needs are met but maybe there is some other special types of interest that they need or concerns, what are kind of supports that we are providing people.“

Environment Minister Christine Tell made the announcement in Regina on behalf of Immigration and Career Training Minister Jeremy Harrison. The $400,000 funding is coming from Immigration and Career Training. 

In her announcement Tell said the funding will “support the development of workforce planning solutions that are tailored to the unique needs of the hospitality employers and developing innovative approaches to addressing the barriers that exist in the hospitality sector…. This includes expanding and strengthening partnerships with Indigenous communities to grow the participation of Indigenous people in the tourism sector.”

International recruitment is another priority identified to address labour shortages, with a need to recruit workers from both Canada and abroad.

The province’s investment also is in line with Saskatchewan's Labour Market Strategy that was announced prior to the budget, to help prepare job seekers for opportunities in tourism and hospitality.

This is a second government announcement aimed at helping the hospitality industry in recent years. Prior to this was $1 million for the Belong Saskatchewan campaign back in 2022, which was designed to recruit people to the province’s hospitality industry following the pandemic.

The hospitality industry in Saskatchewan has seen challenges this decade due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. That resulted in a shortage of available hospitality workers in its wake, and a hotly competitive hiring environment. 

“We were already, pre-pandemic, when it came to labour already in the glue. It was really a tough landscape,” Bence said. “We were competing with so many industries. The pandemic hit and I think what it did is I think really illuminated the challenges that we had, and we were the first hit and the hardest hit and the recovery has been really tough.

"Having said that — so it’s tough. What are the plans to move forward? And I think this government throughout the pandemic specifically, and into today with today’s announcement, it’s yet another example of the commitment they’ve made to our industry, the visitor economy.”

Ryan Urzada, Chief Experience Officer of Atlas Hotel, spoke to reporters of the impact the pandemic had on the industry and on the employees that were moving up the ranks prior to it.

“There’s this connection that exists as people grow in our industry that ultimately the pandemic crashed. (It) sent everybody home, made them question the industry they were in, first-hit, longest-lasting impact ...  It kind of severed that connection that these young people had growing up in our industry had. So we find ourselves starting over.”

He gave as an example the front desk of the hotel to highlight the challenges of what they were facing now. Before, a new hire would be embraced by the rest of the 12-person front desk crew who would help bring them into the fold. Now, it is more likely to be several new hires.

“Now bring six or seven people under that same 12-person team where half of them are experienced and half of them are brand-new, and it’s an overwhelming challenge to get those people up to speed to get that experience and that level of knowledge that was lost during the pandemic. Take that and extrapolate that to an entire hotel, and it’s like opening a brand new hotel, where no one’s worked in a hotel before or half the people have, and the other half are trying to learn. So it’s challenging indeed.”

Minister Tell noted the importance of recruitment and retention in speaking to reporters.

“It’s especially so coming out of the pandemic. The recruitment and retention of people working in this industry, and all industries is indeed critical. The amount of training that’s involved with people that get into a different industry is significant…. You want them to stay and grow throughout the industry and throughout whatever employer that they have, so this is no different than any other industry in that regard. But it has its own unique challenges too. And when you are the first industry and probably in the most significant way hit with pandemic, the assistance and that full court press of all the part(ies), industry players, is so critical.”