During the restrictions and headwinds of the pandemic, the tourism and hospitality industry lost more labour than possibly any other, as skilled workers found jobs in other sectors or left the workforce entirely. The result is one of the largest labour shortages seen by the industry. With more competition from other industries, a widening skills gap, and fast-growing demand for tourism services and products, today’s labour market is increasingly difficult to navigate. 

On May 3, 2023, tourism and hospitality experts came together to discuss the challenges of attracting and retaining talent. Speakers included:

Watch the above video for a more fulsome discussion.  The high level learnings are captured below. 


Hire internationally trained talent

Internationally trained talent can play a critical role in filling seasonal labour gaps, while benefiting the industry in a variety of ways. It can help businesses meet staffing needs, while diversifying their workforce, bringing fresh perspective and ideas, boosting a business’ reputation, and helping to attract new customers with different cultural backgrounds. 

“Hiring international talent is an investment, not a cost.”

- Jiaxuan Qi, Tourism HR Canada

There are many options for hiring internationally trained talent, both those already living in Canada, like students, people with open work permits, and domestic immigrants and refugees, or hiring temporary workers who are living overseas. The benefit to this approach is that these workers may have completed an occupational training program in another country or speak multiple languages – an asset to tourism businesses that serve a wide range of customers. 

Immigrant serving agencies support newcomers and refugees in finding the services they need, including making connections with employers. Recruitment channel JobBank.gc.ca is managed by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and is a free, national employment service used by many newcomers who can create profiles, also browseable by potential employers.

International talent living out of the country is also an option, but typically requires prudent planning, as there is some processing time for these applications. Tourism HR Canada has created a number of infographics to support employers in navigating hiring international talent. 

Eligible students who have a valid student permit and are registered as full time students at a designated institution working towards their degree, diploma, or certification program for at least 6 months are entitled to work for a qualified Canadian employer for more than 20 hours per week until December 31st of this year. Additionally, some international students who have completed their program of study, can also apply for a post graduation work permit, and this work permit gives them three years to work for any eligible employer in Canada for up to 3 years.


Hire students and utilize field placements

Often vocational students are looking for lived work experience to support their professional objectives. In Ontario, there are 24 colleges with rich communities that welcome businesses to engage with students, create meaningful connections, and support learning opportunities that can benefit both the student’s success and the employer’s seasonal staffing needs.

“What’s the difference between experiential-learning, externship, co-op, field-placement, or internships? At the highest level, they mean the same thing, in that they provide a student work experience to satisfy the outcomes of an academic program.”

- Tony Garcia, George Brown School of Hospitality and Culinary Arts

Mentorship programs, program advisory committees, guest speaker opportunities, career fairs, and opportunities for sponsoring scholarships and bursaries, student competitions and case studies all provide employers with an opportunity to inspire students and share industry insights, while also helping to familiarize them with your organization.

Given the tourism and hospitality industry labour shortage is world-wide, competitiveness for attracting newly trained students is increasing, with international businesses coming to Ontario to recruit. Investing in the next generation by paying interns will help Canada remain competitive and will help businesses by increasing the size of their applicant pool. George Brown School of Hospitality and Culinary Arts shared 85% of students in the winter term found paid internships, versus an average of 20% pre-pandemic. George Brown College also shared that 56% of these students were hired by the employer they did their placement with, so it’s important to ensure a thorough onboarding process for student field placements. 

At HireanIntern.ca, George Brown College provides a resource to help businesses learn more about how the process works and to support transitioning well-qualified students into the industry. 


Job fairs and recruiting through employee networks

Late spring through to labour day is peak season at the Toronto Zoo where they need to fulfill a variety of roles from zoo keepers to gift shop attendants to horticulturists to custodians, during a time when there is increased demand for staffing across the industry. To get ahead of recruitment for the 2022 season, the Toronto Zoo hosted a job fair at the beginning of January when students from colleagues and universities were at home and able to attend in person, a benefit to both the zoo and the students looking to secure summer employment. The Toronto Zoo advertised on social media and reached out to community partner organizations to help them spread the word. 

The Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC) worked to solve some of the industry’s recruitment challenges by focusing on the incentives and benefits they offer to their casual seasonal employees and positioning the industry as a choice place of work. They started with a reassessment of their culture, to ensure alignment of their values with candidate priorities, like mental health, safety, and work-life balance, and ensured these priorities were incorporated into job descriptions. 

“53% of employees are more likely to prioritize health & wellbeing over work than before the pandemic”

- Microsoft’s Work Trend Index 2022

Communicating your business’ values with potential candidates, but also with employees is important as they can act as your brand ambassadors and help you tap into a larger candidate network. Values like diversity and inclusion, social impact, community involvement, and professional development can increase employee happiness and lead to candidate referrals. 


Retention is deeply connected to workplace culture

Although they are a small business, the Red Tape Brewery made the decision to become an Ontario Living Wage employer putting their values directly into action. This includes seasonal employees who come on during the summer months to support the brewery’s activities at farmer’s markets across the city. The brewery also prioritized an accessible bathroom in their small retail space and centers underrepresented voices in specially created beers, like for Pride month, and they give a portion of proceeds to aligned non-profit organizations. 

Just as workplace culture can help attract candidates to your business, it’s also crucial to retaining employees. Many organizations paused training and development opportunities, during the pandemic and now is the time to reconnect with employees and see what training and upscaling they would benefit from to support their personal growth. Create flexibility in schedules to support work-life balance and find opportunities to create human-centered culture that focuses on mental wellness. View turnover as an opportunity to diversify your team and prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion in everything you do. 

‘Walk the walk’ wherever you can and consider offering benefit and retirement plans, coverage for mental health, and other added benefits like gym membership, free parking, and fun staff events. Quarterly check-ins with staff through employee engagement surveys can help you understand whether your programs are meeting employee needs and can help you audit and adjust your corporate culture. 


Additional resources

Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO) recently launched a tourism workforce sustainability program. The new program aims to expand and diversify Ontario’s tourism workforce while helping employers with long-term sustainability, and TIAO is committed to supporting employers in attracting and retaining 200 new tourism employees across the province, and 50 in the Greater Toronto Area. All tourism industry employers and positions are eligible; eligible employees must self-identify as belonging to an “underrepresented group''. 

The Ontario Tourism Education Corporation (OTEC)’s Tourism SkillsNet Ontario is a provincial, industry driven workforce development initiative led by OTEC, which enables stakeholders to develop collaborative strategies at the local level that align recruitment and training models with the skills needed by businesses. Leveraging HR technology for regional workforce development and fostering broad collaboration for focused results, this initiative is focused on developing the third pillar of the training and education system.


Employer Support for the City of Toronto provides hiring help to local employers at no cost that includes services such as: access to a large and diverse group of candidates with a wide range of skills and experience; free pre-screening services; and, ongoing human resources support and recruitment services.