Like many employers in Haliburton County, Heat-Line is having a hard time finding workers.
The manufacturer is searching for employees and said it has been very difficult to find candidates in the area.
Kennedy Milburn oversees recruiting and hiring at the Green Lake, Algonquin Highlands business. She said they have used multiple, different platforms, such as Indeed, Facebook and newspaper advertising, to publish their job postings and yet there are few local prospects.
Milburn said that of the few applicants, she has followed up with calls, left a voicemail, and emailed each with no reply.
“The labour shortages in the County are a continuing trend,” she said. “However, it is apparent that COVID has made this trend significantly worse.”
She said one of the challenges is that managing the pandemic in the workplace requires employees to wear a mask all day, stand behind plexiglass barriers, physical distance and clean and sanitize frequently “which can be overwhelming.”
“These are unprecedented times and although there are many policies and procedures implemented to protect one’s health and safety, one can still experience fear and/or risk leaving the house,” Milburn said.
County of Haliburton director of tourism, Amanda Virtanen, acknowledged the situation, saying, “Our local restaurants in particular deal with staffing challenges each year. I expect this year will be equally challenging, if not more so, because of so much uncertainty with the pandemic.”
Opportunity to train workforce
However, she said organizations such as the local Workforce Development Board, Fleming Crew, and the Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce are working through some of the challenges directly with business owners.
“Hopefully the staffing challenges will be somewhat mitigated. My hope is that business owners are aware of these resources and we do our best to make the connections as a tourism department,” Virtanen said.
Elayne Furoy is manager of employment and career services at Fleming College.
She said there have traditionally been labour shortages, particularly in the hospitality, restaurant and construction fields, and COVID has exacerbated it.
She added some of the unique challenges in the County are transportation barriers and a dearth of affordable housing.
She said prospects for entry-level work are not going to commute long distances for minimum wage jobs or cannot afford to relocate. She said programs such as rideshare are difficult in a pandemic as people are worried about their safety commuting together.
Furoy said the repeated lockdowns have not helped. She said it is hard for employers to act in the current business climate.
She said job seekers are also examining their options.
“Weighing the benefits of working versus being unemployed in the midst of a pandemic. We are seeing people becoming increasingly anxious to go out.” She said high school students, for example, who might normally take summer jobs, are planning to have a summer at the cottage instead.
Another trend is seeing former hospitality workers choose retraining, she added, as they are seeking a different pace of life away from the seasonal stress.
She said the problem is that while businesses can’t find workers, people are beginning to flock to the area for what is anticipated to be a busy summer season. “Airbnbs are all booked. People’s interest in cottaging has gone way up.” She said it is, and will, put pressure on employers.
What can be done?
With the pandemic hiatus, Furoy said job seekers should use this time to upskill since there are a lot of free training programs and job supports on offer.
“Now is the time, while we’re all waiting, to get the labour force ready to mobilize, by investing in training.”
She said employers can also facilitate the training of new and incumbent workers, asking themselves, “how do we upscale and invest in our current labour force?”
She said it is an opportunity to “get well-rounded, in things such as communication, collaboration, how to work virtually, take free Zoom courses.” She added new hires have to realize that businesses don’t have the time and energy to train them so they should be prepared to hit the ground running.
She also challenges businesses to become more creative in their hiring options, including considering people with disabilities, since those employees “have great retention and loyalty.” She suggested looking to newcomers and people 55-plus.
Asked what could be done to help employers such as Heat-Line find staff, Milburn said promoting employment consultants, such as the Fleming Crew, “to help people find jobs that match their skill sets and capabilities.”
She added the recent County of Haliburton decision to hire an economic development officer could be another step in the right direction.