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Burnaby staff want to tackle labour shortage with 'innovative' hiring

Burnaby has a wide variety of staff positions open, and city staff hope to create new training programs for youth and older adults.
The City of Burnaby is hiring for a wide variety of parks, recreation and culture staff positions. Photo @burnabyparksrec/Twitter.

The labour shortage is affecting industries nationwide – and municipalities aren’t immune.

In Burnaby, city staff are operating at an 11 per cent vacancy rate.

Particularly affected by labour shortages is the city’s parks, recreation and culture (PRC) department.

There are currently 298 vacancies in PRC, in a department of about 900, meaning about a third of its positions are vacant, according to Mary Morrison-Clark, the city’s general manager of parks and rec.

Now Morrison-Clark wants to do hiring differently.

“We know that doing it the same-old, same-old way, it’s not going to work anymore. So we need to be innovative and we need to do targeted hiring,” Morrison-Clark told the NOW.

PRC is looking to reach out to newcomers to Canada, as well as low-income families.

It’s something that speaks to Morrison-Clark on a personal level.

“I grew up in a low-income family, and PRC is what saved me as a kid and got me trained as a lifeguard at a cool program … where you could volunteer and they’d train you to be a swim instructor,” she said.

“And that’s the kind of way I think we need to go now: think of innovation. Reach out to vulnerable youth and give them an opportunity to have a great job, learn some leadership skills.”

Those are the kind of programs Morrison-Clark wants to grow.

Lifeguard shortage

The lifeguard shortage is a particular issue for the city, which has seen hundreds of parents wait for hours in person and online to register their kids for swimming lessons – and still fail to get a spot.

In March, staff told council Burnaby has seen a decline of about 46 per cent in swimming lesson spots (from 11,800 spots in 2018 to 6,380 now), directly attributed to a lack of staff.

There’s not enough lifeguards or swim instructors to meet the demand for lessons.

“It really shows our inability to even provide those lessons,” Morrison-Clark said. “And when you do the numbers … that’s going to take us two to three years to catch up on that waitlist, quite honestly. There’s a long road ahead of us to get the pent-up demand and that waitlist reduced, if we can’t increase the number of instructors.”

Morrison-Clark referred to a program in Richmond, where the city subsidizes lifeguard training for youth and adult residents experiencing financial hardship.

Older adults sought

Morrison-Clark said along with targeting high schoolers and youth, she wants to create training programs for older adults.

She heard a story on CBC about an 80-year-old man who had been a lifeguard in his youth and recently updated his credentials to apply for work as a lifeguard.

“He (said), ‘I still got it, I can still get that heavy weight off the bottom’ … and I thought: ‘We are going to do that in Burnaby,’” Morrison-Clark said.

She hopes to approach the training a bit differently, providing programs for those in their 50s and above to take with their own age group.

“I think we would have a lot to offer someone who’s a little bit older, that maybe doesn’t want to work full-time but likes the flexibility of an auxiliary role where they could go on vacation for a month, or they could go see their grandkids.”

She said PRC is looking at what it would take to run the program in Burnaby.

“That would be the first program that I’ve seen like that here,” she said.

Why work for parks?

“This is what I tell people: my department, we make life better,” Morrison-Clark said. “That’s our mission. So if you are a person that wants to make life better, we’re where you want to work.”

Morrison-Clark said the parks department is hiring multiple roles for full-time, part-time and auxiliary positions.

“If you want to work full-time and have full benefits, if you want part-time or you want auxiliary because you want to travel, or you want to earn money for this or that – we have a job for you,” she said, noting the roles range from front desk greeter positions, to summer camp counsellors, to outdoor roles like landscaping and mowing lawns, to working with sports groups outside.

She noted Burnaby has a living wage policy, so all employees are paid at a minimum of $24.08.

The city’s chief human resources officer, Anita Bhandari, added Burnaby offers training and career development opportunities.

“We are actively seeking top candidates to join our team at the City of Burnaby, particularly in parks, recreation, and culture services,” Bhandari said in an email to the NOW. “Working in the city offers a supportive and inclusive environment, flexible schedules, work-life balance, and diverse career opportunities.”

“Despite an 11 per cent vacancy rate due to the challenging labor market, this is a great place to work,” she added. “I highly recommend applying to join our amazing teams and making a meaningful impact in our community.”

For Morrison-Clark, PRC has it all.

“You want to teach canoeing? We have instructor jobs for everything. Whatever your passion is about making the community better or making life better, just go to the website and take look. They’re all there.”