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Okanagan facing serious worker shortage

Catering to an influx of tourists can take some serious manpower and be a challenge for many businesses year round. The Okanagan, a region popular for wine lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, is facing a serious labour shortage, and it is only going to get worse in the years to come.

As part of a weekly series covering unique and interesting places in B.C., Global News reporter Randene Neill looks at two very different businesses that are trying to draw in workers full-time.

Kangaroo Creek Farm

When thinking about what draws visitors to the Okanagan, kangaroos and wallabies may not be what most people have in mind.

“Somebody was telling me the other day that we’re number eight in B.C.,” said Caroline Wightman, owner of Kangaroo Creek Farm, just north of Kelowna, B.C.

Wightman’s husband, Greg, said the farm had just over 100,000 visitors last year.

Kangaroo Creek Farm is set up so the public can wander through the pastures, petting the ‘roos, which were all rescued several years ago during a cull in New Zealand. Along with the kangaroos, visitors can get up close to capybaras, emus, llamas and goats.

But while these animals are unusual in this area, the problem the farm has attracting labour, is not.

“Staff has probably been our greatest challenge… and when we do get them we move heaven and earth to retain them because they’re worth their weight in gold,” the Wightmans said.

 Wineries

For Quails’ Gate, they employ up to 250 people in the summer and the award-winning winery and restaurant in West Kelowna prides itself on local. But that’s an almost impossible feat where employees are concerned.

“Our team recruits from Paris, Montreal, Alberta, B.C. Obviously we’re looking for good, talented people as close to home as possible but right now that’s not possible,” said Quails’ Gate CEO Tony Stewart.

For Corrie Griffiths, director of the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission, she sees it as a “race for human capital globally.”

The fight to find workers from kangaroo farm hands to doctors, is only going to get worse in the Okanagan. It is estimated 75,000 employees will be needed in the next four years. That’s despite the fact that Statistics Canada says the city of Kelowna currently has the second highest rate of unemployment in the country.

“The Kelowna CMA is the fastest growing population in all of Canada,” Griffiths said.

“We need skilled trades persons. We need housekeepers, we need sommeliers, we need healthcare professionals and specialists.”

The hard part for the Okanagan, according to Stewart, is the fact that people still see it as a seasonal destination.

“That is changing right now,” he said.

“This is going to be Canada’s number one food and wine centre [and] in looking at the future… year round employment is going to be much more sustainable.”

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