Iqaluit businesses, organizations grapple with staffing shortages

·3 min read
The water slide and leisure pool at the Iqaluit Aquatic Centre. Staffing shortages means pool hours will be reduces starting Sept. 1, the city says. (CBC - image credit)
The water slide and leisure pool at the Iqaluit Aquatic Centre. Staffing shortages means pool hours will be reduces starting Sept. 1, the city says. (CBC - image credit)

It seems that staffing shortages in Iqaluit are not just limited to nursing and healthcare.

From the city's pool to the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 168 and Arctic Ventures Marketplace, some employers in the city are having difficulty hiring and retaining staff.

On Monday, the City of Iqaluit said its aquatic centre will move to "significantly" reduced hours starting Thursday.

A notice from the city's recreation department said a staff shortage is to blame.

"The department is working hard to train, recruit, and hire full-time, part-time and casual positions," the statement reads in part.

In particular, the pool needs lifeguards who can work during the day.

In the meantime, the recreation department will release a schedule for the pool bi-weekly until further notice.

Meanwhile, Iqaluit's Royal Canadian Legion Branch 168, has been experiencing high turnover among its staff, and currently has about 10 vacancies.

Clifford Laurin, branch president, said the food and drink establishment's staffing numbers dropped during the COVID-19 lockdowns, and "unfortunately, haven't rebounded to what they were" before.

One of the problems is not having a competitive enough wage, said John Graham, a past president of the Legion.

"A lot of our former staff ... they got the government COVID money that was paid out. And we can't really match that, to be brutally frank about the whole thing," Graham said.

Even though the Canada Emergency Response Benefit program known as CERB, has now ended, both Graham and Laurin said many people still have not returned to work.

David Gunn/CBC
David Gunn/CBC

"Some have gone on to work at some of the other establishments, and some have just chosen not to return to work, or found other professions," Laurin said.

"We're doing our best to keep afloat," Graham added. "We're struggling trying to get staff to keep this place operational for our members and guests."

Graham said this week has been better than others, with the hiring of three new staff members, "so, hopefully going forward, things get better."

In addition to the management headache, Laurin said the staff shortage is putting a strain on people working double shifts, or six days a week.

"It'd be nice to have another half dozen to ten additional people that could reduce the workload ... and also, from a business standpoint, reduce the excessive overtime costs."

Shortage in frontline staff at Arctic Ventures, says GM

Stéphane Daigle is the general manager of Arctic Ventures, which runs several businesses in the city, including  a restaurant at the airport and some gift shops.

"We find that sometimes the challenges are to keep open for the hours that we're supposed to be open for, just because we're so short-staffed," he said.

He said company management is often being pulled away to work frontline jobs, like running cash registers or making deliveries.

"They'll do that no matter what, but, lately just seems more frequent," Daigle said.

He said staffing shortages "took a turn for the worse" in about mid-spring 2021.

"There was a lot of [COVID-19] exposure in Iqaluit, a lot of people were isolating. So people couldn't come to work, we had to shut some operations down."

Daigle said The Source, which the company also operates, was closed a couple of times, and the restaurant shut down for a period, along with the airport gift shop.

Now, he said, operations at the airport are "very, very busy," yet the company is struggling to staff its frontline roles.

He estimates he needs about 15 to 20 more employees.

Daigle said while the company tries to offer incentives like flexible schedules, he suspects other employers in the city have ramped up their recruitment efforts as well.

"I just think the competition is a lot more fierce than what it was before," Daigle said.

"Whether it's government, Inuit organizations, other organizations in town ... [they] have gotten more aggressive in terms of recruitment," he said.

"We would think that after CERB kind of ended, that people will be wanting to come back to work. It just hasn't materialized."