As Nova Scotia begins reopening and loosening COVID-19 restrictions, businesses across the province are trying to hire employees to fill positions that were cut during the pandemic.
Nova Scotia is currently in the fourth phase of its reopening plan, and it's expected to enter its final phase by the end of August.
That phase means the province will see few or no restrictions including no mandatory public health measures.
Even in phase four, Nova Scotia restaurants and bars can return to regular hours and welcome groups of up to 25 people; retail stores can also operate at maximum capacity.
While many people are welcoming those lifted restrictions, it's putting a burden on some business owners who are struggling to replace employees — likely thousands in the province — they had to lay off over the pandemic.
"We lost a lot of employees which is unfortunate," Luc Erjavec, Restaurants Canada's vice president for the Atlantic provinces, said. "When these employees were off, we couldn't guarantee hours, we couldn't bring them back. So, many got on the federal programs and took advantage of those; others may have moved on to another career.
"Once you lose an employee, to bring them back can be extremely difficult — and that's what we're experiencing now."
Erjavec told NEWS 95.7's The Rick Howe Show that despite the province reopening, the industry is still struggling and many businesses still aren't profitable.
"This has been a year or two like no other," he said. "It's a bit of a mish-mash of a different combination of things that are hitting us hard."
He said there is a range of available jobs from cooking in restaurant kitchens to serving customers to managing staff.
"And it doesn't matter if you're in St. John's, Newfoundland, Halifax, Nova Scotia or Vancouver," he said. "There are jobs everywhere across this country."
Traditionally, Erjavec said immigrants and temporary foreign workers would fill a lot of those jobs.
But due to the pandemic, restrictions and advisories made it difficult for non-Canadians to enter the country.
He also said he thinks the government must tweak its emergency funding programs since they're expensive and there are several jobs for people in many industries.
"I think it's a bit of a perfect storm where we've had our traditional employees leave, employees that are coming in and looking for employment have not been coming and it's an industry that's just starting to rev up and find its footing after 18 tough months," he said. "I think every operator is struggling looking for whatever they can do, whatever opportunities they can give for employment."
The situation doesn't make it easy for business owners. Especially as the federal government gradually cuts the emergency funding programs for small businesses.
"The stress an operator has been under is tremendous," Erjavec said. "They're trying to care for their employees and maintain as many jobs as they can. Meanwhile, they're accumulating thousands of dollars in debt. It's a struggle, and mentally and physically it's exhausting.
"How long can you continue?"