100,000 job openings by 2020, but who will fill those positions?

Arlene Keis, CEO at go2hr, says tourism is the largest employer of youth of all sectors in B.C. - Rob Newell
Arlene Keis, CEO at go2hr, says tourism is the largest employer of youth of all sectors in B.C.
— image credit: Rob Newell

For those looking at career options in the next few years, the tourism industry deserves a close look, with 100,000 new job openings expected by 2020.

Arlene Keis, CEO at go2hr (, which supplies BC’s tourism and hospitality industry with human-resources related programs and services, said there’s a misconception that tourism offers only seasonal, part-time, low-paying jobs.

Tourism is the largest employer of youth of all sectors in B.C., she noted.

Keis said it seems all the discussion on the radio these days is about the liquefied natural gas and oil industry.

“But we mustn’t forget the importance and the size of the tourism sector in B.C. as well,” Keis said Tuesday at Tourism Richmond’s Service Awards at the River Rock Show Theatre.

The tourism and hospitality industry’s contribution to B.C.’s gross domestic product is two-thirds that of oil and gas, and two-and-a-half times that of the agriculture and forestry industries put together.

Two-thirds of the job openings expected in the coming years will be in the Lower Mainland area, she said.

“We’re going to see tremendous job creation as well.”

The challenge that lies ahead is finding the passionate people to fill the positions.

Some 38 per cent of the workers in the province’s tourism and hospitality industry are under the age of 24, and many of them are doing this work while studying in university and college, she said.

And while that’s fine, there appears to be a major shortage of young workers in the coming years.

Today, there are 63,000 Grade 12 students in the province, but there are only 43,000 Grade 7 students, setting up an anticipated 30-per-cent decrease of high school graduates, and potential employees, five years down the road.

“That’s going to be a huge problem,” Keis said.

This won’t be a problem just for the tourism sector, but also others like construction and oil and gas, she said.

The other challenge facing the industry is one of public image.

“We are perceived as a dead-end, low-skill, low-pay, go-nowhere type of industry and this is so far from the truth as you all know,” said Keis. “We need to really work together to get the word out about the wonderful opportunities, the fun, the passion that people have in this industry...Who else loves their product like we do? And what a product we have, British Columbia.”

There’s also a high turnover rate in the industry, partly due to poor management practices.

“Our studies in fact show that if you enter the tourism and hospitality industry and you have a bad experience in the first year, you’re likely to leave and never come back.”

So it’s really important for the industry to look at its people practices, she said, especially with the dwindling worker pool expected in the coming years.

“What do we do to attract and keep more people like you in this room?”

There’s a role for employers and employees.

For workers, Keis said they should tell everyone they know about how proud they are of the work they do.

“We had a contest about a year ago, inviting employees to tell us why they love their jobs or careers, and one of the winners...he held a sign up, he was on the top of a mountain somewhere, and he said: ‘My job is better than your vacation.’ We thought that was wonderful and it’s so true.”

For employers, Keis encouraged them to focus more on recruitment, retention and training.

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