Staffing shortages plague businesses in Yellowknife, in Canada’s NWT

A sign displayed at Birchwood Coffee Kǫ̀ thanking customers for their patience as they operate with fewer staff than usual. (Jenna Dulewich/CBC)

By Jenna Dulewich · CBC News

Businesses are reducing hours, closing temporarily and asking customers for patience

The ability to get fried chicken in Yellowknife has been severely compromised by the labour shortage affecting the territory.

A quick search on the infamous “Yellowknife Rants & Raves” Facebook page highlights the plight of people trying to get their hands on some dirty bird citing the early closures, non consistent hours and lack of communication when the store is shut down.

And it is a problem that is not unique to Kentucky Fried Chicken.

School boards in the city are grappling with a shortage of substitute teachers. Shortages of health care staff have plagued the territory for months.

“I think it’s universally felt — the shortage, and it’s fairly evident and obvious everybody’s heard of that,” said Mark Henry, vice president of the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce.

“Businesses are just simply short of skilled and capable people to do the necessary work.”

‘Housing seems to be a big issue’

“Help Wanted” is a common sign spotted in the N.W.T. as several industries are facing staffing shortages across the territory.

If you walk around Yellowknife you will notice businesses around the city are reducing their hours, implementing temporary closures and asking customers for their patience as businesses operate with fewer staff than usual.

Levi Jones started his contracting business, Side Jobs Contracting, during the pandemic as a way to generate income, but said he could easily hire another 30 positions if they could find the people.

“We are definitely understaffed and I think most people share that problem here,” Jones said.

Obstacles of having a full-time staff is a mixed bag, according to Jones. Some workers “have a hard time showing up” and recruiting southern candidates can also have its own problems.

“In the North, housing seems to be a big issue right now — even if we can find the guys, it is difficult for us to find a place to put them,” Jones said.

Overlander Sports manager Jordan Crosby said it has been challenging to get full-time staff as he noticed a significant drop in resumes after the pandemic was declared, but acknowledged other factors.

“It’s pretty expensive to live and go about your daily lives … It’s not so uncommon for a staff member to say, ‘Hey, I got a job with the Government or the mine and it pays this much and can you match it’ and unfortunately, that is more than what I make as well,” Crosby said.

The North also has a transient nature, Crosby said, which can be frustrating to managers investing training into staff who end up leaving after a couple of months.

Small biz owners credit ‘good work culture’ to retention

While staffing shortages seem to be invasive across all industries, not all companies are feeling the pinch.

Dingeman van Bochove owns Summit Roofing in Yellowknife and operates with nine full-time staff, including van Bochove and his wife, most who have been working for the company for the last three years.

He credits his success to fair compensation, offering training opportunities and cultivating a good work culture.

“Don’t offer just a job for paycheque, because then the chance is very high that there’s another job available for you for easier money,” he said.

‘You can’t just hit a button and then be back to normal’

Closures due to COVID restrictions is part of one theory, according to Henry. With reduced capacity in buildings, periodic shutdowns and laying off staff, it can be difficult to get the economy back to where it was before restrictions.

“One of the realities is that you can’t just hit a button and then be back to normal,” he said.

But even if some businesses are not affected, the ripple effects of overall labour shortages can be felt on a community.

“Businesses play an important part in the look and feel of a community. Is it a place I want to live in? And when there’s service gaps where you don’t have a place to go eat, where you don’t have a place to take your kids for a little bit, entertainment … that affects the general psyche,” Henry said.

International labour a possible solution

When asked about possible solutions some companies said they are looking into international labour, an option also being explored by the Chamber of Commerce in Yellowknife.

“We’ve talked a lot about how immigration processes can address these labour shortages, you’re able to source qualified people with numerous years experience in a particular area, and they’re quite interested in moving to Canada,” Henry said.

While some managers suggested hiring local, the Chamber of Commerce vice president said there is not a single solution.

“Relying on local labour is not a solution in and of itself,” Henry said. “It needs to be a combination of things.”

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Paramedics to help out at N.W.T. health centres as territory contends with staff shortages, CBC News

Greenland: Greenland to reduce services amidst staffing shortages in health care system, Eye on the Arctic

CBC News

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