Are you noticing an increasing number of new, student-aged faces behind the counters of the cafeteria as you peruse for your next meal? In order to make up for the limited number of permanent staff members, Dana, Quest’s new catering company, has turned to student employees to fill gaps.
Dana Hospitality, Quest’s new food service retained many of the employees from Black Katz, the university’s previous catering company. Unfortunately, not all of the roles have been filled, leaving them severely understaffed.
“All of our staff have been pulling double duty,” Dana Food Service Director, Shehani Perera said. “Long days, long hours. It’s frustrating.”
Dana’s priority is obtaining staff for the kitchen. Currently, cashiers are stepping up to assist the chefs in making sandwiches and salads in between shifts.
“It’s an effect of what’s happening in the industry in Squamish,” Perera said. “The cost of living has gone up significantly over the last few years…It makes it harder for people to afford to live here, and for there to be a work force.”
The large influx of homebuyers from Vancouver has driven the price of housing up significantly in Squamish, forcing many long-term residents to move away, simultaneously creating labor shortages in the Sea to Sky Corridor. In a recent poll taken by Work BC of downtown Squamish business owners, 33% said that finding employees was a large challenge, especially chefs and cooks.
Squamish is one of the fastest growing communities in British Columbia. The population is estimated to swell beyond 30,000 by 2031. Squamish’s unexpected growth has put strains on the housing market, and left the municipal government scrambling to provide affordable housing for service workers. The result is a gap in the labour force, where the demand for low-paying service jobs is not supplemented by low-cost housing.
Perera points out that an additional challenge in finding employees is transportation to Quest. “If you don’t have a car it’s harder to get up here,” Perera said. “So if someone is looking for a job, they may look for something that’s downtown.”
The increase in student hiring as of late is meant to fill roles in the kitchen and necessary prep work. Currently there are twelve student employees working part time shifts.
“[Students] wouldn’t fill a permanent spot, but would help take some of the pressure off,” Perera said.
First year Miles Panych was the first Quest student to be hired as a short order cook by Dana, which overturned Black Katz’s precedent of not hiring student employees.
“They hired me to help deal with the fact that cooks are getting overwhelmed at the grill during rush hour,” Panych said. “When I’m alone it’s very stressful, but between two of us we are usually able to manage it.”
Perera has future plans to begin hosting special events in the cafeteria, including movie nights, themed events and demos, once they have adequate staff.
“I really want this to be a community hub where people come here and it feels like their home away from home,” Perera said. “Food is such a big part of that experience.”