Western Nunavut hub seeks keen workers

Finding staff is a “struggle” for many businesses

At the Saxifrage Resto-Café in Cambridge Bay a sign encourages patrons to apply for jobs. (Photo by Jane George)

By Jane George

CAMBRIDGE BAY—Looking for work? Some businesses in western Nunavut’s hub are crying out for workers, and if you want a job, you don’t even need to have any special skills or education.

And, while you often hear that the Kitikmeot region needs more jobs, there appears to be plenty of work available in this growing community of about 1,800 for people who are reliable and energetic.

But who wants these jobs?

Few, it appears, based on what you hear from those who manage or own local restaurants and stores.

Nearly all of those who spoke to Nunatsiaq News said they experience big problems attracting and keeping workers as cashiers, servers and the like.

Three used the same word—”struggle”—to describe their staffing issues. One called staffing a challenge of “epidemic” proportions.

To scout out workers, these businesses post signs around town, on their premises and on social media.

The Saxifrage Resto-Café, a popular, Inuit-owned business, is among the hard hit.

“We are looking to hire Restaurant Servers to join the Saxifrage Team! Must be reliable, have a positive attitude and be able to work in a fast-paced environment. Waiting experience is a plus but we also offer on the job training,” said a recent social media posting from the Saxifrage.

The pay for a server at the Saxifrage starts at about $14 an hour, plus tips, and wait staff can also enjoy free meals after their shifts.

Manager Maggie Foseid said she provides training and encourages hires to get to know the various foods on the menu and to reach out to customers, new and old.

But most stay just long enough to collect one pay cheque.

Stuart Rostant, one of the owners of the Kuugak Café in Cambridge Bay, takes over the cash on a busy lunch hour when there are not enough staff to go around. (Photo by Jane George)

It’s much the same situation over at the Kuugak Café, where co-owner Amanda Doiron Rostant said it’s no problem to get people who work elsewhere to moonlight as servers during evenings or weekends.

But during the day it’s a different story. No one wants to work that shift. So you may see her or her husband Stuart running the cash or taking orders.

That’s despite the fact that during a busy lunch hour a server can earn at least $20 an hour, and eat later as well.

The lack of staff caused the Kuugak to stop opening at 8 a.m. even though they could attract clients at that hour.

It’s a “vicious circle,” Doiron Rostant said: the busier the café is during the day, the more time the cooks need time to prepare, but they don’t have the local staff or available housing to bring in staff from outside, so the only alternative is to scale back on hours.

The same is true at the Arctic Islands Lodge which sometimes had to close due to lack of staff. Comments on social media say that potential patrons have turned up only to find the restaurant closed.

The Kalgen’s Dis and Dat airport concession has also closed on occasion due to lack of staff, including on one day this past August, also one of the busiest cruise ship transfer days.

Then, there are the other stores: the co-op often lacks local staff and the same can be said for the Northern.

There, cashiers are paid more than minimum hourly wage, plus they get $5 an hour worth of food.

But this bonus of $40 an eight-hour shift doesn’t appear to make a difference as often only one, or even none, of the cashiers shows up.

At the Olapkivik Gamehall, run by Inuksuk Enterprises Ltd., sometimes owner Bruce Peterson must be on the floor. But, even then, it takes two to properly run the place.

It’s hard to say what the solution to this shortage of workers is.

But Sandi Gillis of Qillaq Innovations Ltd., which carries out a variety of different contracts around the community of 1,800, said “our people who work for us in Cambridge Bay want lives, so we have to backfill with people who just come here to work.”

Gillis said Qillaq tries to build a team feeling, so that the local workers don’t feel that southerners are taking their jobs “but are supporting us, so it’s not a problem if they want a weekend off.”

Meanwhile, to prepare people to work, the Kitikmeot Inuit Association delivers employment skills programs, not just in Cambridge Bay but throughout western Nunavut.

“Some participants feel that if they take a short term program, they will or should be able to gain employment immediately….[but] a significant number of job applicants do not actively seek employment following the training program,” said Michelle Buchan, the manager of Inuit employment and training, at the KIA’s annual general meeting earlier this month in Cambridge Bay.

The courses delivered by the KIA stress the importance of job retention and showing up consistently for work, Buchan said.

“We help beneficiaries understand the financial benefits of being employed and also the effect it has on co-workers and the employer when there is frequent turnover of employees or employees who are unreliable,” she said.

Of the 84 training, about 45 gained employment, she told the AGM.

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(18) Comments:

  1. Posted by Coop Cook on

    My first trip to Nunavut was to work in a small restaurant in the North Baffin area around 10 years ago. The food was very simple, the expense to fly me there and back was considerable and didn’t make any sense to me given the number of unemployed in the community. But there I was. It remains one of the toughest experiences in my life and among the most memorable, and to an extent, among the most rewarding (more noticeable in hindsight). People complain about us southerners taking these jobs, I was as perplexed by it all as anyone in the community. But the locals weren’t reliable, they came and went as they chose. Work today, don’t work tomorrow.

  2. Posted by Northern Inuit on

    there is so much work and so many kids and young people still suckling on Mommys teet living at home and more concerned about playing the latest Call of Duty, Fortnite, and worrying about how much internet bandwidth Mommy and Daddy have left so they can log into FB without it slowing down.

    it’s great when they get a job, work two weeks then get paid and don’t bother showing up until they are out of money again. god forbid they show up the entire pay period!

    how anyone in this day and age expects to get paid $30+ an hour with no experience and job experience still baffles me.

    it’s a tough world out there. be tougher. go to school, every day, finish, then go to college, go to Arctic College, Heavy Equipment Operators School, Mine Training, something.

    there is such a difference in work ethic right now between this generation and the last. i seriously don’t get it. playstation/xbox generation?

    the N64 kids work hard. aha, but seriously, common kids. smarten up.

    • Posted by “No it’s the children who are wrong” on

      Sure go ahead and blame the kids. The truth is this problem is across the whole spectrum of ages from kids to adults as old as 50. All people of all ages don’t show up to work in the North, but ya go ahead blame the Xbox/Playstation generation that is really productive. The kids don’t learn the behavior from video games, they learn it from their parents, who work when they need a bit of money then quit when they can get their basic needs met. It has to be a shift in priorities and it has to start at the education level attending school regularly and go all the way through for there to be any significant change.

      • Posted by Northern Inuit on

        clarification, my statement was not directed to the kids.

        it’s to the 40+ year old kids who are still slacking off suckling on the gov’t teet and not doing much of anything either. we had problems all over with many age groups not showing up for work, not just the young ones.

        we need a stronger work ethic instilled in a lot of people. it’s about finishing your education, continuing it, and dedicating yourself to work hard, all day, every day.

  3. Posted by NO WAY OUT on

    People are crying for employment and saying that there are no jobs around, but there are jobs available. People are too used to getting freebies and handouts. JUST TO LAZY TO WORK. They want good high paying jobs automatically, but they don’t have the required skills. They complain that the salary is too low and then quit. Some of them are capable of working and do have the skills and education, but they would rather sit on their butts and collect income support. In some smaller communities, employment is very limited.

    Training courses are available, but they don’t seem to take the opportunity to apply

    • Posted by people should work and earn money on

      “Training courses are available, but they don’t seem to take the opportunity to apply”. 100%! They say “Ohhh I’m going to miss my family to much” “I can’t leave my home town” I say so what, Bring your family. Home isn’t home unless you have wife/husband and kids with you. Then you will be making money for them & your habits and buy toys you want.

  4. Posted by Systematic Change on

    Everywhere you go in the north people will say “that theres no jobs”, but at the same time you can go to any business and notice that nobody is showing up for work and they are always looking for help. Managers at the Northern store will complain that their staff is getting drunk every night and not showing up, GN offices are often more than 50% vacant (and these are good paying jobs). A systematic change is needed for Inuit employment numbers to be at NLCA levels, and filling low-level positions with Inuit while southerners occupy management and director level positions is still very colonial; and until a systematic change is successfully achieved, this will continue as the norths’ status quo.

    • Posted by Observer on

      “A systematic change is needed for Inuit employment numbers to be at NLCA levels, and filling low-level positions with Inuit while southerners occupy management and director level positions is still very colonial”

      Part of the issue I’ve observed when talking to kids is that they see southerners come up here out of nowhere and get good paying jobs, while they can only get lower paying jobs in the service industry, the stores, or for companies. It’s understandable there’s some resentment and asking what the point is if southerners will just come get the good jobs while they have the low-level ones, but part of that problem is they don’t see what’s happened before those southerners came north. They didn’t see them working the low-paying jobs while in school or after graduating, stocking shelves and serving tables and doing the grunt work while someone else gave the orders. All they see is people looking like they’ve just been handed a good-paying job for no reason, so it’s unfair they can’t just be handed one too.

  5. Posted by People should work and earn money on

    I don’t understand people who complain about not having money? They complain about not having enough food for so and so, Don’t have the toys that they want, Not being able to afford the habits that they do, Instead of complaining about it. Go find a job. Shouldn’t matter what the job is. Money is money, Once you earn your money continue working so you can have more money for food and the stuff that you want. And who cares if you’re making “X” amount of dollars at least you are making income, It will all add up to a decent amount of coin.

  6. Posted by Crystal Clarity on

    I have no sympathy at all for people who constantly whine about no jobs.

    The welfare mentality runs deep. Besides all the points previous posters have already made consider this. For every qablunaaq you see in Nunavut that job could be held by an Inuk, There are more jobs than could ever be filled by able bodied Inuks. But there are far too many content to sit on their ass collecting SA and Child tax and every other freebie out there, but god forbid they go back to school, take a lower paying job to learn about the work place etc…

    In communities like Cambridge Bay and other large communities that have jobs to spare, how about making those people go and apply for those jobs and stop automatically handing out free money. If they have to fly people in to work that should be a wake up call.

    • Posted by Northern Inuit on

      exactly, there are so many jobs in Cambridge Bay and so many can be held by people from here and trained for the position.

      but heaven forbid you show up to work at 8:00 am, every day! and forget about asking someone to work a weekend, might as well slap them in the face and call them a dorkface before doing any weekend work.

  7. Posted by OutofTowner on

    Yes! Finally this topic has come around!
    Not only small businesses are affected, sometimes we can’t even get some information from their GN Staff due to someone not coming in or due to them quitting their jobs.
    They should look at putting some Departments into other communities other than Cambridge Bay.
    Cambridge Bay is not the only one having this problem, I once told a store Manager who was stocking the shelves, You should find someone in our community to Stock Shelves instead of doing it yourself, she replied that they did hire someone but that person did not make it in to work that day!
    Saxifrage-I hope you find people to work there, best food, best hospitality! Wish you were in our community!

  8. Posted by All our Opinions on

    I do agree with opinions here, if you want money then you have to work for it. If you don’t, then don’t complain .
    If your family suffers because of your laziness or crazy spending habits, it is your fault & no one else’s.
    In all the towns of Nunavut , in all positions, & departments,
    you have well paid free loaders & incompetent workers of
    all races who should be kicked out of their jobs !
    It is not just about the Inuit people.
    We also have a lot of very good workers in Nunavut.
    So to our M.P. & MLA’s do some thing about it.
    Act or get off the pot !!!

  9. Posted by Epi Demic on

    Cambridge Bay will have all the workers it needs when it brings its pay scale in line with the cost of living.
    .
    You can be sure that when the job pays enough enable the worker to rent or buy or build a home in Cambridge Bay and support a family, there will be no shortage of workers.
    .
    The current lack of housing, high rents, low wages and Social Assistance rules combine perpetuate the situation.
    .
    It’s going to take some imaginative thinking and real leadership to overcome the current situation.
    .
    Hopefully these will come from the next generation, because the current generation seems very short on both imagination and leadership.
    .
    If you have ideas, now is the time to start planning for the next election in two years. By starting now you will hopefully be ready to put your plan into action when you get elected, rather than having to spend most of your term finding out where things are and how they (don’t) work.
    .
    We can only hope.

    • Posted by Root causes on

      Entry-level jobs in the south don’t pay enough to buy a house or support a family, yet people take them. There are huge numbers of teenaged and young adult people in the north who should be wanting and taking these jobs. The reason they don’t is that living on welfare is too lucrative in the north, and comes with no shame or expectation that the person should be supporting themselves. Being supported by others is culturally acceptable in the north.

  10. Posted by Putuguk on

    Before and during the time that settlements were first created in Nunavut, we were probably the hardest working people in the world. As nomadic people reliant on scarce resources, we had to shepherd our strength and efforts based on the rewards seen. Our lives depended on knowing when to keep putting huge effort into something, and when to stop and move on to something else. Connect the dots. What has changed?

    Universal government programs designed for a cyclic manufacturing and resource based economy have been imposed on us for at least 3 generations – the modern Nunavut welfare state. Communistic systems of allocating public resources like housing have also been imposed. The erosion of work ethic, and destruction of the desire to support oneself are natural consequence of these government policies.

    The USSR self destructed decades ago. Here in Nunavut, we have yet to figure this out.

    There is no reason for an Inuk to work when his/her basic needs can be met without working at all. Also, anybody can see that the difference in quality of life between a hard working and lazy Inuk is relatively small. The people in Cambridge Bay that could be serving in local restaurants are not starving, or cast out on the streets.

    If we want to see change, then the way government works needs to be changed. It is not the families or the video games. People are making rational economic decisions not to work. The need for change is spelled out in our IQ Principals but we are ignoring it.

    When a capable Inuk cannot meet their basic needs without working, they will work. When a capable Inuk knows that their life will become dramatically better when they work, then they will work. Just like in the old days.

    Until then, no amount of complaining about this will change anything.

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