Yellowknife’s favourite independent brewer has been struggling to reopen.
NWT Brewing Company made a public appeal for service staff in a Sept. 2 Facebook post.
“This industry has been hit hard during the last 18 months and every restaurant you can imagine has suffered in some way,” the post reads.
“We collectively all need service staff and so we’re asking for your help.”
The message added that the outlook for the business is uncertain because of the need to fill serving positions.
“Without staff, it’s unclear what the future looks like and your local brewpub cannot continue to operate and provide the level of service and hours you would like if we simply do not have anyone to deliver these services,” the message reads.
Miranda Stevens, owner and general manager said that she can’t find anyone to to take the work and that the situation isn’t sustainable.
“We are in crisis mode here. You can have a viable business and be very successful, but without good hired help you can’t do anything,” she said.
“Our resources are so overburdened and stretched so thin that we simply cannot continue to operate at the rate we need. It is unclear at this time what the future of our business looks like but what we do know is we need more skilled employees.”
Stevens said that since the pandemic started the industry has been unreliable for attracting labour and called for federal help.
“We need major federal help,” she said. “The industry needs serious economic recovery strategies that aim to support business owners in hiring staff, employee retention and wage subsidies. If we don’t see help, restaurants across the country will continue to close.”
“Good ones that were successful pre-Covid and little cities like ours will continue to lose their vibrancy when doors start shutting for good. We need more people, I can’t say it enough and the only thing that will help us find them is to pay them far above the industry standard.”
Renée Comeau, executive director of the NWT Chamber of Commerce, said businesses across the country are struggling to fill what are described as unskilled labour positions. She said the trend is felt more intensely in the North.
“Nationally there are two problems — one is that we have a group that used to be ‘unskilled staff’ who did take the opportunity to better educate themselves during the pandemic and have gone into more skilled positions,” she said.
“Secondly, there are some ‘unskilled staff’ relying on pandemic subsidies and we don’t know if there is enough being done to find out if those who can’t work actually can’t work.”
Comeau said that with Kentucky Fried Chicken and Starbucks opening in recent months and Hungry Wolf Restaurant planned to open soon, there have been fewer workers than usual to draw from in the city’s work pool.
“If you even attempt to go into a restaurant down south, it is a bit of a hit and miss in terms of the days they are opening because they just don’t have the staff,” she said.
“Up here it is being exacerbated because there are a lot of places that have opened up recently that have taken up potential staff.”
On top of that, with post-secondary students returning to school and high-school students being uncertain about what COVID public health and social gathering protocols will mean for them this fall, there has been an exceptional amount of pressure for demand of unskilled labour, she said.
Comeau said that, additionally, with the creation of the COVID-19 Secretariat last year and the subsequent expansion of the public sector, the GNWT has only contributed to the demand for labour by NWT businesses.
“In terms of the COVID Secretariat, there are a lot of employees that have been taken off of the labour market,” she said. “Why go to make $20 bucks an hour serving and take the potential verbal abuse that comes with it when you can go and make $30 bucks an hour if you can and get a foot in the door with the GNWT?”
Stevens said she has seen this with her establishment.
“People do not want to have to deal with all the COVID protocols involved in the industry, and they want job security, higher paying wages with benefits and less overall stress,” she said.
”We’ve had to cut our hours and our services like takeout and brunch and ultimately the growth and expansion of our operation more specifically on the brewery side has drastically been affected. We’ve wasted so much money hiring and training staff that leave weeks to a few months down the road for a government job.”