Labor shortages are creating challenges in Calgary, impacting both the private sector and the City of Calgary’s recreation programs.
One of the biggest impacts for the city is on its aquatic programming, after a recent recruitment session saw only half the applicants it would normally see before the COVID-19 pandemic.
City officials said the recreation department has only 65% of the staff needed to provide water services and programs at pre-pandemic levels.
As a result, the city said it has had to reduce hours at some pools and can only offer 45% of its swimming lesson programs in 2022.
Wing 11 Count. Kourtney Penner said she’s heard from many Calgarians on the subject.
“Struggling to get into classes, whether it’s swimming lessons or pool exercise classes, people are missing that,” Penner said.
“As things have reopened, wanting to go back to these communities without having the team there to provide that; Calgarians really feel they are losing.”
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One of the problems, both locally and nationally, is the lack of lifeguards following the closure of recreational facilities during the pandemic.
“Many lifesavers or swim instructors were laid off or lost their jobs, so they moved on and found another career,” said Barbara Byers, a senior researcher at the Lifesaving Society.
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According to Byers, there is now a backlog of lifeguards and swim instructors available due to the time required for recertification training before they are hired and the lack of certification programs offered during the pandemic.
“This whole kind of pipeline or path, in the last few years, it’s been pretty empty,” Byers said.
“So it’s really a contest, it’s a labor shortage and there’s a lot of competition for jobs.”
Penner said there are ongoing conversations at City Hall about the problem and possible solutions to fill those papers.
“As a city, we need to make sure that we’re meeting this need early and providing these learning and training opportunities for potential employees,” said Penner.
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The lack of personnel forced the city to reduce the hours at the Leisure Center in Praça da Vila; which created frustration for many users in the area like Mun Bains and his fiancee Gursimran Sandhu.
According to Bains, there are queues to get into gymnastics colleges and lack of capacity and lack of answers after calling 311.
“Some days you feel like you don’t even know if you’re getting in,” Bains said. “There are closed signs at each (inbox) so you don’t know who to talk to, and it’s just chaotic.”
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The couple started a petition to reinstate the hours at the recreation center, after discussions with other members about the impact of the schedule change.
“There’s just a general general frustration when you go there,” Sandhu said. “You want to go stress relief and you leave feeling more stress or you feel stressed while you’re there.”
The city addressed the concerns in a series of tweetswhich said hours are based on “staffing levels, geographic coverage, historical usage patterns, and anticipated citizen need,” and that hours will increase as they hire more staff.
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Private Sector Shortage
According to the latest Canadian Business Conditions Survey, nearly 70% of Calgary’s lodging and foodservice sectors are dealing with the impacts of labor shortages after two years of uncertainty surrounding pandemic measures.
The survey showed that nearly 44% of Calgary companies are concerned that labor challenges will limit their ability to grow.
64% of survey respondents said recruiting and retaining employees is more challenging than it was 12 months ago, with most labor concerns among large companies, construction and manufacturing sectors and energy-related businesses.
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The Calgary Chamber of Commerce said labor shortages combined with rising costs and supply chain issues required solutions from all levels of government.
“While there is optimism about the recovery, the latest survey highlights significant challenges, which will require a suite of solutions developed through government and industry working together,” Chamber of Commerce President Deborah Yedlin said in a statement.
“From an immigration strategy to attract skilled workers to post-secondary investments that improve access to training, we must activate all the levers to ensure we leave no opportunity on the table.”
The proposed government action to address the Chamber of Commerce issue includes investments in post-secondary and work-integrated education programs, an affordable provincial day care program, and the elimination of barriers to recognition of foreign credentials.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) said it has also heard similar concerns from small businesses, with 82% of their local businesses reporting concerns.
“What we’re hearing is that this issue of not having enough employees is definitely limiting their ability to increase production, sales and opening hours,” said Annie Dormuth, director of provincial affairs for CFIB Alberta.
“So it comes down to having the staff to fill those shifts.”
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