Laura Jones: Fast-food restaurant jobs are hard to fill

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Have you ever wondered what it’s like to hire people to staff a fast-food restaurant? I recently spoke to someone who does just that for a number of restaurants in the Vancouver area. She told me she feels lucky if she gets one candidate to show up for every five job interviews booked. The no-shows don’t even bother to let her know they aren’t coming.

One applicant looked really good on paper and kept applying for the jobs she was advertising, but she could not track him down. When she got a call from the Employment Insurance (EI) office asking if that applicant had applied for her job, she understood why. A condition of getting your EI benefits is looking for work. It seems this applicant was more interested in collecting his EI cheque than a paycheque.

In response to challenges like these, small business owners report trying a number of strategies, including increasing wages, expanding benefits, and providing more flexible hours.

But there are limits to how far these strategies can go because customers demand reasonable prices and convenient hours. Doubling wages might attract more applicants, but a business that tries to charge $50 for a pizza? A business with no customers won’t be in business for long. Offering more flexibility is also challenging because while employees might prefer not to work shifts when they are most needed.

So for many employers there is a gap between the jobs they can reasonably offer and the jobs that enough Canadians want to do. In fact, 81 percent of small- and mid-sized companies that were looking to hire in the past three years said it was “somewhat” or “very” difficult. Demographics suggest that in the coming years this problem will get worse.

In desperation some small businesses have turned to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and hired employees from outside of Canada. This is an expensive option, not for the faint of heart, as it involves a lot of paperwork and expense.

Recent media stories allege that a few restaurants have abused the program. Of course, any abuse should be treated seriously, just as abuse of the EI system should be treated seriously. Individual cases should be investigated and dealt with.

But to conclude that a handful of alleged cases of misuse constitutes widespread employer abuse is an insult to the vast majority of small businesses that are doing a good job of treating employees fairly and serving their customers well.

The business owners I talk to believe their entry-level jobs are a great first rung on the ladder of opportunity for many of their staff. They are excited to see their entry-level employees show initiative, move up quickly to become managers, or use their experience to move on to other opportunities.

The Vancouver hiring manager I recently spoke with was passionate about the dignity and importance of jobs that serve the public. She wants to hire Canadians first. But the reality is they don’t always want the jobs.

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19 Comments

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Natty

May 1, 2014 at 4:16pm

I call BS. There are tons of high school students (who traditionally have been those who work at fast food outlets) that can't find a job in Vancouver. The hiring standards in Vancouver are extraordinarily high, even for entry level work. So many smaller cities still have teens running the drive thru windows, but you don't ever see it in Vancouver. Companies need to look at recruiting at schools, before they look overseas.

uncle ted

May 1, 2014 at 5:04pm

get real .. there is such a glut of fast-food restaurants blighting up every major city that most people could not care less if 80 percent of them closed ... keep raising wages until you fill positions with Canadians .. we all know you could put up the price of crappy burgers and coffee .... and the zombies will still walk thru the door to buy em .....

anonymouse 1962

May 1, 2014 at 5:51pm

I call double BS. Pay fair wages and you will get people working for you. Low wages shows a disrespect to employees or potential employees. Maybe the one who don't show up for interviews are reciprocating the lack of respect shown to them!!!

Kiskatinawkid

May 1, 2014 at 9:42pm

Good grief. This article contains more shit than a sewage plant. Not hard to figure out why. Ms. Jones is employed by one of the most pathetic excuses of pathetic excuse makers ever.
There's way too many lousy job businesses in this country as it is. Most, if not all of these 'fast food' joints could disappear and we'd all be better off for it.
Start supporting real jobs!

HellSlayerAndy

May 1, 2014 at 9:51pm

I guess in hindsight Gordo's gift to this industry; half wage and the 500 hour training sop ultimately made their situation worst and poisoned their employment pool. They burned out and abused otherwise qualified workers that simply jumped ship to any OTHER industry that paid a full minimum wage.

Also the fast food concept originated in the middle part of the last century. Nutritional education, an aged population, obesity, urban-suburban dynamics might suggest that this is a sunset industry.

Not being able to get staff to do these sort of worthless jobs with little in the way of transferable skills to the larger hospitality and restaurant industry might be part and parcel of this sunset. If so, why does the government insist in trying to SAVE something consumer preference is leaving behind. Business people somehow seem to think the 'system' (certainly not the 'market') should protect them for some reason.
There are a lot of failed and dysfunctional institutions simply being keep alive simply because they have built up political influence.
We should be moving on and finding something a little more fulfilling and worthy of our young people and fast food was never dignified career-oriented work...it was a trap for some.

therealburgerking

May 1, 2014 at 11:45pm

Pay a decent wage and people will show up for those interviews.

??

May 2, 2014 at 7:22am

It has been proven that most fast food is GMO. If you can handle working at a place that will make you obese, give you diabetes and cancer then knock yourself out.

Only one country in the world has fast food as a staple diet and they are the one ones that export violence as well so make a choice live healthy or support crap food made by fiat currency.

Bruce

May 2, 2014 at 9:19am

The "Temporary Foreign Worker" and "live in caregiver" programs, where the employee is in Canada only as long as they work for a single employer, used to operate under a different name: indentured servant. In the 18th century.

If you can't get an employee except by bringing in someone who has limited rights, and whom you don't have to compete on the market for their labor, that's your problem.

small biz owner

May 2, 2014 at 9:27am

It depends if you are a small franchise owner or a big corporation. Many small business owners do not make much money, and paying a higher wage does not mean you will get a "better" employee, just less money in your pocket. It is not a nice job for the most part. My daughter has a minimum wage job and they are always training people. I cannot imagine staffing that many low end jobs everyday, over 100 employees.

Running a business is tough. Vancouver retail rents are crazy and out of reach for many (Yes i know this first hand), gov't taxes and paperwork take up huge amounts of time, you normally are working very long hours, and yes it is a choice you make, but you need luck to be successful.

Customers want cheap cheap cheap, and it is competitive. Cross border shopping sends money into the US. Supplies costs are going up. (Again I know this first hand)

I just feel many of the commenters on here have broken down the problem too simply.

Wage slave

May 2, 2014 at 9:42am

McDonald’s net income in 2013 was $5.6 billion. Its CEO, Don Thompson, had his pay tripled in 2012, from $4.1 million to $13.8 million, although he did a get a pay cut in 2013, to only $9.5 million (including stock awards and generous benefits).

As Terry Glavin recently wrote: "Invest properly in apprenticeships, pay decent wages, offer decent benefits, and if you can’t run a business in this way then shut the hell up or shut the hell down."

http://www.ottawacitizen.com/opinion/foreign+workers+program/9767749/sto...

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