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Current and coming increases to minimum wages in Ontario, Alberta, Quebec, and the Northwest Territories have created no end of controversy or press coverage. Depending on the source, the predicted effects of the increases range from massive job losses as employers struggle with the higher costs, to an economic boost created by minimum-wage earners spending their pay on goods and services they could not previously afford. Debate has covered the percentage of the increases, the implementation speed, and the influence of regional economic conditions—particularly rural versus urban.

Time will tell what the impacts will be. Expect variations, as some employers may be able to absorb the costs by raising prices without losing customers, while for employees, the local cost of living will affect whether they see a boost to their disposable income.

It’s a complex and politically charged subject, touching the whole economy. In tourism and hospitality, we see earnest employers trying to do the right thing for their staff, while having to work with thin profit margins. We see hard-working, dedicated employees trying to make ends meet as they support their families or pay for increasing education costs. The negative stories have been front and centre, and media coverage has included profiles of employers supporting the increase, including those paying above minimum wage.

As an organization that represents the people that make up tourism and hospitality—10% of all workers in Canada—we want to explore the impact of the wage increases on all fronts: owners and operators of businesses of all sizes, managers, supervisors, and frontline employees.

Below is a mix of articles covering a broad range of perspectives, in an effort to provide a balanced view of the topic. We will continue to track and study the impact of these changes on tourism sector operators and employees as the effects percolate through the economy.

How Ontario restaurants are dealing with the minimum-wage hike

Kathleen Wynne’s minimum wage math doesn’t add up

Why a $15 minimum wage is good for business

Canada’s youth are the clear losers from a higher minimum wage

Ottawa restaurants split on changing tips because of new minimum wage

While over 10% of the Canadian workforce is considered employed tourism-related occupations, the vast majority of these people have little idea of the key role they play with visitors to Canada. There has long been a debate in the sector as to whether the term “tourism” is clearly understood when it comes to which jobs are closely associated with, and dependent on, tourists.

With more than 400 occupations under the tourism umbrella, the diversity is impressive: from front desk agent to pilot, from tour guide to pastry chef, the opportunities for employment in the sector are broad, varied, and very much in demand. Depending on your location and the job you perform, your level of interaction with people visiting your town, province/territory, or country can vary a great deal. For example, if you are a bartender in a popular section of Saskatoon, the percentage of your customers who are tourists is likely far less than if you are performing that same job in Banff. In both scenarios, the bartenders are serving tourists, just to varying percentages of their customer base.

This disconnect between the perception and reality of who is working in tourism make it tricky to communicate important information about the sector. Often, you’ll see the word “tourism” used in conjunction with another to convey a more inclusive picture. “Tourism and hospitality” is the most common combination, and effectively ensures restaurants and hotels are part of the mix. It’s important to have all relevant parties recognize they play a role in tourism to better reflect what a key economic driver tourism is for Canada.

A tangible example that demonstrates this disconnect was a series of “on the street” interviews that Tourism HR Canada staff conducted nearly a decade ago. We conducted short interviews with people in various tourism hot spots across the country. When asked to name a profession that was tourism related, generally the responses were “tour guide” or “working at a visitor centre”. As we conversed with these folks, they started to see not only the connection to restaurants and hotels, but also to public transportation (taxis, buses), certain retail environments, and spaces like galleries and museums.

In the decade since those interviews, the importance of tourism to Canada’s economy and labour force has continued to grow. Tourism remains one of the fastest-growing sectors globally, and plans by the federal government to increase the number of tourists arriving on Canadian shores can be fostered towards success if more people can easily see they play a role in promoting the country they love and wish to share with the rest of the world.

(seasonally unadjusted)

In December 2017, the unemployment rate1 in the tourism sector was 5.0%, which is 1.5% lower than the rate reported in December 2016, and lower than the previous month (November 2017), when the unemployment rate stood at 5.2%.

At 5.0%, tourism’s unemployment rate was below Canada’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate of 5.3%.

All tourism industry groups have reported lower unemployment rates than the same month last year (Table 1).

On a provincial basis, tourism unemployment rates ranged from 2.2% in British Columbia to 23.5% in Prince Edward Island.

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates for tourism in each, with the exception of Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Saskatchewan, were below the rates reported for the provincial economy (Figure 1).

Tourism employment comprised 11.0% of the total Canadian labour force for the month of December.

Table 1 – Employment Rate by Tourism Industry Group – December 2016/2017
Tourism Industry Group2 Unemployment Rate –
December 2016
Unemployment Rate –
December 2017
Tourism 6.5% 5.0%
Accommodations 9.7% 8.3%
Food and Beverage 5.9% 5.1%
Recreation and Entertainment 8.2% 6.3%
Transportation 3.3% 1.8%
Travel Services 13.1% 3.3%
Figure 1 – Tourism Sector vs. Total Labour Force Unemployment Rates by Province (Seasonally Unadjusted)

1 To determine unemployment rates, industrial (NAICS) classifications are based on the most recent job held within the past year, and are self-identified by the respondent. Unemployed persons are those who, during the reference period, were available for work but were on temporary layoff, were without work, or were to start a new job within four weeks.

2 As defined by the Canadian Tourism Satellite Account. The NAICS industries included in the tourism sector are those that would cease to exist or operate at a significantly reduced level of activity as a direct result of an absence of tourism. Source: Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey, customized tabulations. Based on data for the week ending December 9, 2017.

The tourism sector is widely regarded as a place where young people can make their first foray into the working world. Most consider how its entry-level options and flexible hours accommodate students’ schedules. Tourism offers far more than that, however: it is a place to learn important skills that will help individuals in any career they choose, and the opportunity to build a career in the sector itself.

According to the Statistics Canada report Getting your foot in the door: A look at entry-level job vacancies in Canada, there was an average of 367,000 job vacancies in Canada in 2016. Half required no previous work experience and were considered entry-level. As such, these jobs are ideal for those seeking their first job (such as students or new graduates), those re-entering the workforce after time away, and those changing careers or jobs.

Of the 175,600 entry-level jobs, half did not have any educations restrictions, while one in four required a high school diploma. Just under half of the entry-level jobs were for part-time work and about one in three were temporary positions. Employers reported constantly recruiting for a quarter of these positions, suggesting the positions have high turnover rates.

The existence of such jobs is important, as more and more Canadians are extending the time they spend within the education system. In 1990, 18% of working Canadians aged 25 to 44 had a university degree. By 2016, 38% did. This change in the labour force is partly supported by the ability of students to work part-time jobs, requiring a high-school education or less, that offer the flexible scheduling they require to work while they study.

Many of these entry-level jobs are in the tourism sector. The industry with the largest number of reported vacancies in 2016 was accommodation and food services, which reported 51,500 vacancies total, of which 32,600 (or 63.3%) were entry-level. The arts, entertainment and recreation industry had fewer vacancies (8,700 total) but over half (4,600) were entry-level[1].

Aside from the technical skills needed for a given job, employers want employees who are collaborative, communicate well, problem solve, and can adapt to a changing workplace [2]. These are skills that can be gained in tourism. In a survey of 2,200 Canadians, the majority felt that working in tourism taught communication skills, people skills, multitasking, and problem solving.

Starting a career in tourism also has long-term benefits. The U.S. travel association looked at data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics that tracked 5,000 workers from 1979 to 2010. It found that those who started in the travel industry reached higher wages ($81,900) than those starting in other industries ($77,600) and that two out of five of those who start in the travel industry go on to earn more than $100,000 per year. Importantly, these benefits extended to those with a high school degree or less. They ended up earning $69,500 on average, compared to $66,100 for those with similar education who started in non-travel/tourism industries[3].

Tourism offers workers the opportunity to turn their entry-level jobs into full-time, well-paying careers should they choose to pursue that path. But even if they do not, tourism offers an excellent starting point for furthering education and pursuing any career.

[1] Statistics Canada, Getting your foot in the door: A look at entry-level job vacancies in Canada, December 6th, 2017.

[2] Aon Hewitt, Developing Canada’s future workforce: a survey of large private-sector employers, March 2016.

[3] U.S. Travel Association, Fast Forward: Travel Creates Opportunities and Launches Careers, 2012.

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When the calendar rolls over to a new year, a common and strategically wise practice for employers is to reflect on the past year: what worked or did not work so well on the human resources front? Too often this reflection focuses on the negatives rather than building on the positives. If you’ve had success on a specific HR initiative, consider how can you capitalize on it to strengthen your overall HR objectives for the new year.

As an example, say you adopted a new approach to recruiting employees. It has paid dividends, with you having hired individuals who had the perfect blend of experience, attitude, and aptitude. First off, congratulations—by ensuring you are recruiting and hiring the right fit for the roles you are staffing, you’ve taken a critical first step to establishing an HR direction and practice that can be leveraged for further success. Next, you need to make sure you have a plan in place to keep and develop the top recruits you have attracted to your business.

Your past year’s hires have proven to be hard-working, motivated, skilled, and personable employees. Promoting them as reward for their talents, interests, and aptitudes seems like a natural retention move: demonstrate to these employees that you value their contributions to your establishment and they will in turn increase their commitment and help set high expectations for all employees.

However, your approach to promoting staff needs to be deftly managed, or you run the risk of losing the momentum you’ve established with your new recruitment and hiring practices. Without the right support, that promising employee may not be able to live up to your expectations.

Before you make a formal offer, ensure everything is in place for the staff member to succeed in the new role.

A promotion generally means increased responsibilities—these can be stressful for the employee, particularly if they include supervising other staff. This is even more of a transition if it will be the person’s first time supervising others. Meet with the individual you are considering promoting to discuss short-, medium-, and long-term career aspirations. Pay particular attention to areas where these goals dovetail with the needs of your business. Establish a training plan in partnership with the employee, considering both personal areas for growth as well as plans for the business.

Make sure you have easily available tools and resources to assist the employee in succeeding in the new role. If the promotion includes supervising others, make sure to provide resources that will assist in the development of communication, conflict management, and general people skills.

Find out how the potential manager would feel leading people who were once at the same job level. Some may find it too difficult to remonstrate a close colleague, while others may find the new “power” goes to their head; either situation may have you losing staff due to a good employee turned poor manager.

Also ascertain the person`s capacity to absorb new information and learn new tasks. New managers will be required to transition from an operational focus, such as serving meals, to a strategic focus, such as planning schedules based on expected guest numbers. Quick learners should be able to take their prior knowledge and use it as a base for their new duties.

Once the promotion has been offered and accepted, try to ease the employee into the new role as gradually as possible. The transition from staff member to supervisor or manager requires an employee to develop a new skill set, which should not be expected to materialize immediately upon promotion.

Continue to offer training and coaching as the individual acquires on-the-job knowledge. Keep an open door and regularly follow up on their progress. Make sure all aspects of the new position are properly understood and nothing has been overlooked. Without support, you may end up overwhelming an excellent employee and possibly losing them—or others.

Many advantages result from internal promotion. Former frontline workers can more easily empathize with the challenges faced by their team members and can readily relate to the day-to-day responsibilities undertaken by their staff. Managers promoted internally are also assets because they are the keepers of corporate memory, and can impart to new hires their in-depth understanding of company culture and values.

Your newly promoted employees will face many challenges in a new role, but you can play an integral part in their success by ensuring they have the tools and support to make informed, strategic decisions that ultimately benefit the business and their own career paths.

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Happy New Year and greetings as we start 2018—a key milestone for Tourism HR Canada as we celebrate our 25th anniversary! 2017 was a year of tremendous growth and increased organizational strength. There were several notable accomplishments. We made a major change to our board governance model and elected a new Board of Directors, comprised of some of the most important industry leaders. We established a new Industry Advisory Council, the first thinktank dedicated to discussion and debate on tourism labour market issues. We held our inaugural Annual Labour Market Forum, collecting input from tourism and hospitality stakeholders from across the country—input leading to recommendations on HR strategies and solutions that can be applied sector-wide.

Perhaps more than any other year, the organization was called upon frequently by governments, associations, and business stakeholders to contribute expertise/opinion and information on labour market matters. We benefitted from appointments to the ministerial advisory council for immigration (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada) and the Labour Market Information Council (Forum of Labour Market Ministers). Our Vice-President, Labour Market Intelligence, was appointed to the Travel and Tourism Research Association (TTRA) Board of Directors, and we were invited to serve in an advisory role on Transport Canada’s legislated requirement to set competency standards for people who transport dangerous goods.

We launched HR Insider and published some of the most important and timely information on the labour market. Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada called on us to help contribute to the planning of the first Canadian En[tour]preneur Experience and we participated as mentors for the 50 youth that were invited from across Canada. We presented at several industry conferences, and we were asked to respond to many other information requests. This year, we will build on our role as the ‘labour market voice’.

Without change, there is no progress. Looking forward, we will continue to focus on increased flexibility and responsiveness, to further diversify our strategies, and to invest in our people. These aims will remain core to how we work and will inform the updated Strategic Plan that will be launched in June.

Our priorities for 2018 will see us continue to contribute to the creation a more resilient and inclusive tourism labour market.

This is a great organization with an important mandate. Thank you for sharing in our work. We can anticipate a great year ahead, and our team looks forward to accomplishing it with the same enthusiasm and commitment.

With very best wishes,

Philip Signature (2)

Philip Mondor
President, Tourism HR Canada