By Linda White
Special to the Toronto Sun
Home to one of the world's most-visited natural wonders, Niagara Falls has long been a favourite destination. But as private sector investment and government support transforms the region's tourism industry, the number of jobs being created is quickly surpassing the current workforce.
"We've seen explosive growth ... it's a challenge to maintain service levels," says Peter Wadsworth, vice-president of human resources with Canadian Niagara Hotels and Entertainment.
"We've seen explosive growth ... It's a challenge to maintain service levels," says Peter Wadsworth, vice-president of human resources with Canadian Niagara Hotels and Entertainment. One of the country's largest entertainment complexes, it owns Sheraton on the Falls, Skyline Inn and Brock Plaza.
"The province's huge investment in the casino was primarily responsible for bringing tourism back to Niagara Falls," Wadsworth says. "In 1996, the tourism industry absorbed the workforce, but there was still unemployment."
The new casino, opening next month, will woo many already employed in the tourism industry and underscores the need for labour. "We're moving into high season and all these postings are going to occur," Wadsworth says. "Replacement staffing will create a one-time hiring bonanza in Niagara Falls. Conceivably, we will need a couple of thousand staff."
As employers compete for labour, it will be "survival of the fittest," Wadsworth predicts. "Four-star properties will do well, but some properties may struggle. We're trying to avoid the Orlando, Fla., situation, where you drive by restaurants that are closed because there aren't enough people to work."
The demand is particularly high for room attendants and cooks. "Local newspapers are crammed with ads," Wadsworth says. "People can walk by in some classifications and be hired on the spot."
Vintage Inn in Niagara-on-the-Lake may recruit workers from Barbados as a "contingency plan," reports Anita Caslin, senior human resource manager. She also serves as chairman of the Niagara Association of Hospitality Human Resource Professionals, which is working to address the labour shortage.
Tourism season means more job opportunities in Niagara Falls.
"The casino has created a number of new positions in the area. That's a great thing, but it creates a bit of a challenge in meeting labour needs, especially for entry-level positions," Caslin says.
The Association has identified transportation between the City of Niagara Falls and outlying suburbs as a barrier to a potential pool of employees. It is working with Niagara Transit and the Niagara Tourism Human Resources (HR) Council to address the problem.
The Niagara Tourism HR Council was formed last summer through a Human Resource Development Council grant. "Our goal is to raise awareness of career opportunities here," says project manager Nancy Sutton.
"There's a stigma that positions in hospitality are minimum wage, but that's not true," she says. Room attendants, for example, earn $11 to $14 an hour plus benefits and the opportunity to earn tips.
Employment in tourism includes almost 400 occupations in eight sectors: accommodations, adventure tourism and recreation, attractions, events and conferences, food and beverage, tourism services, transport and travel.
With a thriving grape and wine industry, golf courses, historical places of interest and countless recreational activities, the opportunities are varied.
The Council is targeting students, early retirees, new Canadians, the unemployed and the underemployed. "For every job posting, there are just 1.3 applicants," Sutton says. "We see it as Las Vegas in its growing phase."
DID YOU KNOW|
Tourism is the fastest growing industry in the world.
Over the past decade, tourism spending in Canada grew faster than the Canadian economy as a whole.
Tourism spending tops $55 billion each year and employs 1.4 million Canadians -- that's 10 per cent of the Canadian workforce.
Jobs opportunities in Niagara's tourism industry have increased 75 per cent over the past three years.
-- Information from www.tourismcareersniagara.com
The Council is working with Niagara College to develop programs to attract and train workers in the necessary fields. The college recently opened the Niagara Culinary Institute, which offers an industry-focused approach to education and training.
"People are recognizing more that working in the hospitality industry is a career opportunity, not just a summer job," says Dave Taylor, dean of hospitality and tourism. "People are going to school for hospitality and tourism. It's part of the evolution of the industry and the mindset. There is a seasonal aspect to the industry, but more positions are year-round."
As Niagara's tourism industry continues to evolve, the demand for labour will grow. Several golf resorts, an aquarium and a lodge are currently under construction. "Niagara Falls is becoming a year-round destination," Sutton says.
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