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Fernie needs workers; reaches out to Cranbrook

Fernie is in a crisis situation, and is reaching out to other communities — especially Cranbrook — to help solve what’s becoming a great and growing problem.

Fernie is in a crisis situation, and is reaching out to other communities — especially Cranbrook — to help solve what’s becoming a great and growing problem.

The Elk Valley is experiencing a labour shortage which has been increasing, says Brenda Sutherland, with Elk Valley WorkBC.

“Fernie employers are desperate in all areas, not just tourism and hospitality. We’re in desparate need of workers and we just can’t find them. “It’s definitely becoming a crisis here, and has been for the past two years, and it’s progressively getting worse.”

Sutherland said there are three areas in particular that are in crucial need of workers: Contracting, the tourism and hospitality industry, and Early Childhood Education and Childcare.

“Those are the three top ones,” Sutherland said. “But Teck is also still actively recruiting — more mining projects are in the works.

“We just don’t have enough people to fill the demand for what Fernie’s needs are.”

“The past couple of years, people are closing their doors early, because they don’t have the staff. Contractors are being forced to turn down jobs, because they don’t have the carpenters and labourers to do the work.”

WorkBC has taken measures to try to recruit more people locally, specifically youth. The organization is hosting a second job fair of 2018 — something not usually done, Sutherland said.

“This is the first time we’ve put on a Spring job fair in the six years we’ve been here. The winter job fair was always sufficient. But the need is so great here that we’re having to put on another job fair in the hopes that job seekers from around the Kootenays will come and apply with some of our companies.”

The job fair is set for May 3, from 2 pm to 5 pm at at 521 4th Avenue in Fernie. Almost 25 employees from all areas of the local employment economy will be on hand.

“The culture here is so different than Cranbrook,” Sutherland said. “Just the amount of people that come in, then when winter is over all our international visitors are gone — they want to move on to different places. To try to keep them here during the shoulder season is difficult, because they’re ready to move on. If youth were more involved it would make a difference.”

Just based upon statistics that Sutherland has personally gathered from going around to the high schools, 10 to 15 per cent of employable youth are either working or want to work. The other 85 per cent of youth-aged workers are not in the job market.

“There’s that untapped labour market of youth that we’re trying to generate, but but it has been challenging.”

Thus WorkBC is reaching out to the region, specifically Cranbrook, one hour’s drive away.

“Especially the Cranbrook community,” Sutherland said. “If they could somehow share in the gas costs to come to and from — it’s not like they have to live here. If there are three or four people — groups of friends, for example, who are desparately seeking work, and we have it, perhaps they can save money and actually travel from Cranbrook to Fernie every day — which is an hour — make their money and share in the expenses.”

Affordable housing, as in Cranbrook, is an issue in Fernie, Sutherland said. “The housing market here is something that is preventing people from, say, Alberta, or anywhere, from working here, unless it’s for Teck, which is high-paying. There’s housing here, but there’s not available affordable housing. It makes a huge difference in trying to recruit people from other parts of B.C. and Canada.

“What we’re hoping is that a city like Cranbrook with pools of workers who may not necessarily jobs there can perhaps find jobs here. We’ve been trying, but it’s time to look outside the box — at Jaffray, at Cranbrook, around the region,” Sutherland said.

The job fair is on May 3, from 2 pm to 5 pm, at 521 4th Avenue in Fernie. Any employers interested in attending can contact Brenda Sutherland, Marketing and Community Engagement Elk Valley WorkBC, at, or at 250-423-4204.

Barry Coulter

About the Author: Barry Coulter

Barry Coulter had been Editor of the Cranbrook Townsman since 1998, and has been part of all those dynamic changes the newspaper industry has gone through over the past 20 years.
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