Man using computer to make a candidate search

By Nicole Di Tomasso

A shrinking and more demanding labour pool continues to be a top concern on the minds of hoteliers and other industry stakeholders. Faced with this major challenge, hospitality businesses are developing and implementing different solutions to combat the labour shortage — from embracing technology to fostering a flexible and inclusive work environment. 

Canada’s unemployment rate rose 0.1 percentage points to 5.8 per cent, bringing the total increase since April 2023 to 0.8 percentage points, according to Statistics Canada’s November 2023 Labour Force Survey. 

Although the unemployment rate has trended up for all major age groups, increases have been more pronounced among youth. From April to November, the unemployment rate increased by two percentage points (to 11.6 per cent) among youth aged 15 to 24. Over the same period, it increased by 0.6 percentage points among people aged 25 to 54 (to 4.9 per cent) and by 0.7 percentage points among people aged 55 and older (to 4.6 per cent). 

Compared with a year earlier, unemployed people in November were more likely to have been laid off from their previous job, reflecting more difficult economic and labour-market conditions in 2023 compared with 2022, according to the survey. 

With the rising unemployment rate hitting the hotel industry particularly hard, having the right people practices that attract, retain and develop the best talent, from entry-level to senior management, is a critical success factor. 


Simply put, Canada can’t replenish its labour pool through natural growth, so it must rely on international workers to fill the gaps.

The Hotel Association of Canada (HAC) has achieved several immigration policy wins, including allowing hotels to access low-skilled new Canadians through the Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot (EMPP); replacing travel-visa requirements with eTA (Electronic Travel Authorization) for eligible travellers from 13 countries, including the Philippines and Morocco; removing the 20-hour work-week cap for international students until Apr. 30, 2024; extending work permits for international graduates; and expanding the International Experience Canada program by 20 per cent, bringing nearly 90,000 youth to Canada to travel and work, among others. 

“Hoteliers across the country are doing what’s needed to attract and retain employees in Canada, but there are simply not enough Canadians available to fill open positions. In response, we’ve launched a Hotel Workforce Growth Strategy to support both domestic and international recruitment for the sector,” says Adrienne Foster, VP, Policy and Public Affairs, HAC. “We’ll continue to focus on both maximizing the meaningful opportunities available for refugees and asylum seekers in our sector and optimizing the TFW program for when it’s needed most, in surge seasons.”

Collaboration and Partnerships

Building effective partnerships with educational institutions and community organizations is crucial for improving labour availability. 

The Fairmont Royal York, for example, has long-standing relationships with Centennial College, Durham College, George Brown College, Toronto Metropolitan University and the University of Guelph, among others. In addition to its guest-speaker services and on-campus job fair participation, the hotel recently started hosting an Educators Networking Event twice a year, whereby a number of hospitality students, accompanied by their instructors or placement advisors, are invited to tour the property and make connections with leaders. 

The Fairmont Royal York also partners with the Hospitality Workers Training Centre, WoodGreen Employment, YWCA Toronto Employment Centres, Access Employment and Tent Partnership for Refugees to host hiring events and speed-dating interviews. The last event was held in December 2023 and dates have already been secured
for Q1 2024. 

“Traditionally, interview methods, especially at large organizations, tend to be longer,” says Yatan Nizzar, assistant director, Talent & Culture, Fairmont Royal York. “However, these hiring events make our processes more efficient and create a better employee onboarding experience. We have to be efficient and quick or else people will go elsewhere.”

Nizzar continues, “When it comes to line-level positions and potential candidates coming to Canada looking for work, they may not have the tools or resources to use digital avenues to apply for jobs. That’s why working with community partners is essential in order to be successful when seeking
out talent.”

Empowering Women

Although women account for 54 per cent of the global tourism workforce, according to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), they’re less likely to be found in senior management or executive roles. During the pandemic, women were more likely to lose their jobs or have their hours or pay reduced, fuelling the ongoing labour shortage. 

Vancouver-based WORTH Association (Women of Recreation, Tourism & Hospitality) is one of many organizations advocating to counter this imbalance and challenge the gender-pay gap, discrimination, work-life balance, lack of advancement opportunities, sexual harassment and more. 

“The line ‘If she can’t see it, she can’t be it’ resonates with me. If there isn’t diversity reflected in leadership teams, women may not strive to join in,” says Joanna Jagger, president and founder of WORTH. “We want to focus on providing women with opportunities to pursue leadership instead of exiting the industry altogether.”

WORTH hosts a mentorship program and leadership academy, which Jagger says the organization hopes to expand across the country. Additionally, WORTH has created a Gender Equity Audit scored out of 65, available on its website, for industry organizations to assess and improve their equity initiatives. 

Accor has publicly set ambitious objectives to promote equal opportunities for women. By 2025, 40 per cent of Accor’s executive committee will be women, 45 per cent of its global steering committees/senior leadership (in corporate and regional offices) will be women and 40 per cent of its general managers will be women. Additionally, Marriott achieved gender representation parity for global company leadership by 2023, two years ahead of its original goal.

“Looking ahead, I want to see more measurements and metrics that are public and celebrated,” says Jagger. “The industry needs to show that it’s a welcoming workforce to women, especially women of colour.” 

Positive Workplace Culture

A diverse, equitable and inclusive work culture creates an environment tailored to individual needs and preferences to empower employees. Diverse teams bring a range of perspectives that can drive creativity and problem solving, ultimately positioning hotels ahead of the curve in a competitive market. 

When individuals feel valued and respected, they’re more engaged, productive and committed to their roles. In an industry where burnout rates are notoriously high, fostering a positive work culture can improve morale and reduce turnover. 

“Understanding what’s important to someone is helpful to individualize and maintain a level of engagement,” says Nizzar. “If an employee is interested in growth opportunities, we make sure that we’re taking the time to develop those individuals and help them get to where they want to be.”

Nizzar continues, “As the HR landscape continues to evolve, we must prioritize an extraordinary candidate experience. By designing a remarkable onboarding journey aligned with our service culture, we foster resonance and loyalty. Our goal is not merely to navigate through processes but to focus on personalization, fostering genuine connections from initial contact to onboarding and orientation.”

Employee Incentives

Competitive wages, comprehensive benefits packages and retirement plans are known to incentivize long-term employment. However, according to HAC’s Workforce Growth Strategy, in partnership with Deloitte, 45 per cent of surveyed candidates had a negative perception regarding salary and benefits in the hotel sector. Furthermore, companies are discovering that benefits, rather than pay, are more important to the millennial and Gen-Z workforce demographics. 

Recently, the Ontario Restaurant Hotel Motel Association (ORHMA) and Group Lockhart hosted a webinar about recommendations for group benefits plans that align with a company’s goals and values.  

James Lockhart, president of Group Lockhart Inc., Navacord, broker partner, says creating a benefits philosophy statement that establishes guidelines management must operate within when planning, designing and revising a benefits program serves as a guide for evaluation. Objectives include implementing a tax-effective benefits strategy, supporting personal wellness and mental health, providing tax-free income protection at affordable premium contributions for Long Term Disability benefits, providing cost-effective prescription drugs and more.  

In the bustling world of hospitality, the labour crisis can’t be resolved with the wave of a magic wand. However, by taking these steps, the industry can lay the foundation for a more appealing work environment, attract and retain a new generation of talent and ensure the survival of its treasured hotels as we progress into 2024 and beyond. 


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