Labour shortage impacting Calgary recreation centres, private sector

From the service industry to downtown officer towers, several sectors in Calgary are feeling the pinch of a labour shortage. As Adam MacVicar reports, the city's chamber of commerce says something must be done to fill the gap.

A labour shortage is creating challenges across Calgary, impacting both the private sector and City of Calgary recreation programs.

One of the biggest impacts for the city is in its aquatic-based programming, after a recent recruitment session saw only half the applicants it normally would prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

City officials said the recreation department only has 65 per cent of the staff it needs to provide services and aquatic programs at pre-pandemic levels.

As a result, the city said it had to reduce hours at some pools, and can only offer 45 per cent of its swim lesson programs in 2022.

Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner said she has heard from many Calgarians about the issue.

“Struggling to get into classes, whether that’d be swimming lessons or pool fitness classes, people are missing that,” Penner said.

“As things have reopened, wanting to get back to those communities without having the staff there to provide that; Calgarians really feel like they’re missing out.”

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One of the issues, both locally and nationally, is a lack of lifeguards following the closure of recreation facilities during the pandemic.

“Many lifeguards or swim instructors were furloughed or lost their jobs, so they moved on and found another career,” Lifesaving Society senior research officer Barbara Byers told Global News.

According to Byers, there is now a backlog of available lifeguards and swim instructors because of the time for recertification training needed before they’re hired, and the lack of certification programs offered throughout the pandemic.

“That whole, sort of pipeline or pathway, over the last few years is pretty empty,” Byers said.

“So it really is a scramble, it’s a labour shortage and there is lots of competition for jobs.”

Penner said there have been ongoing conversations at city hall about the issue and potential solutions to fill those roles.

“As a city, we need to make sure that we’re pre-fronting that need and providing those learning and training opportunities for potential employees,” Penner said.

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A shortage of staff has forced the city to reduce hours at the Village Square Leisure Centre; which has created frustration for many users in the area like Mun Bains and his fiancée Gursimran Sandhu.

According to Bains, there are lineups to get into the gym faculties and a lack of capacity, and a lack of answers after calling 311.

“Some days you feel like you don’t even know if you’re getting in,” Bains said. “There’s closed signs at each (entrance booth) so you don’t know who to talk to, and it’s just chaotic.”

The couple has started a petition to restore the hours at the recreation centre, after conversations with other members about the impact of the changed hours.

“There’s just an overall general frustration when you go there,” Sandhu said. “You want to go and relieve stress, and you come out feeling more stress or you feel stressed while you’re there.”

The city addressed the concerns in a series of tweets, which said hours are based on “staffing levels, geographic coverage, historic use patterns, and predicted citizen need,” and that hours will increase as they hire more staff.

Private Sector Shortage

According to the most recent Canadian Survey on Business Conditions, nearly 70 per cent of Calgary’s accommodation and food services sectors are dealing with the impacts of a labour shortage after two years of uncertainty around pandemic measures.

The survey showed nearly 44 per cent of Calgary businesses are worried labour challenges will limit their ability to grow.

64 per cent of respondents to the survey said recruiting and retaining staff is more challenging than it was 12 months ago, with the majority of labour concerns amongst large businesses, the construction and manufacturing sectors and energy-related businesses.

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The Calgary Chamber of Commerce said a shortage of labour combined with rising costs and supply chain issues require solutions from all levels of government.

“While there is optimism around 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 enhance access to training, we must activate all levers to ensure we don’t leave opportunities on the table.”

Proposed government action to address the issue from the Chamber of Commerce include investments in post-secondary and work-integrated learning programs, an affordable provincial childcare program, and the elimination of barriers to recognizing foreign credentials.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) said it has also heard similar concerns from small businesses, with 82 per cent of its local businesses reporting concerns.

“What we are hearing is that this problem of not having enough staff is definitely limiting their ability to increase production, sales and opening hours,” CFIB Alberta provincial affairs director Annie Dormuth said.

“So it all comes down to having the staff to fill those shifts.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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