Let’s Talk Issue 3:
With ‘Let’s Talk’, we spotlight important issues that may affect local businesses like yours. We’d like to know what you think. What is your story, and do you have any advice that can help other Chamber members?
Understanding and overcoming Niagara’s punishing shortage of workers
I desperately need employees right now, and I can’t find them.
That simple statement sums up a conundrum faced by countless South Niagara Chambers of Commerce members — and employers everywhere. This trouble exploded during the pandemic, but ingredients of the labour crunch were brewing before.
According to a recent Reuters Canada article, Canada’s labor force grew in August, but it fell the previous two months and it remains smaller than before the summer, as tens of thousands of people stopped working.
Some of this can be linked to far more Canadians retiring, said Statistics Canada.
But it’s not just the 65-and-over crowd leaving their offices and hanging up their tool belts, the article says. A record number of Canadians aged 55-64 are now reporting they retired in the last 12 months.
Niagara’s unemployment rate rose to 5.8% in August, up from a low of 4.5% in June — markedly lower than the same time last year during the pandemic height, where it was at about 10.6%
There’s also a more complex, underlying picture here.
So… what is the full story in Niagara, and what are best practices for overcoming this frustrating lack of available employees, with their priorities shifting in tight hiring conditions. And what does this new wave of workers want, as employers cope with the ‘Great Retirement’ and ‘Great Resignation’, aggravated by the pandemic upheaval?
Marina Butler, president of Employment Professionals Canada in Fort Erie, says we’re not unlike the rest of the world, in facing these labour shortages.
“Niagara is certainly experiencing a high level of frustration here,” Butler says, noting labour shortages cause disruptions in the supply chain which can entail “re-strategizing their business model.”
She says workers want a “strong commitment from employers that include a work-life balance, higher wages, advancement opportunities and the stability of full-time permanent work.” Granted, it’s not so easy for employers to accommodate all these needs, and many are caught in a loop of survival strategies, where increasing their costs means increased costs to clients or customers.
As Butler and others emphasized, workers are nonetheless the backbone to a thriving business. Recognizing and implementing the needs of workers in a fair and equitable way, may translate to boosted workplace contributions, making businesses even more successful.
Tammara Scaringi, senior accounts manager for Niagara-based On Demand Staffing, comments on changes needed to address current labour shortages:
They include policies that promote and support greater participation in the labour force; accessible child care, transportation that connects Niagara residents with rural and industrial areas and skills training that aligns with market needs.
And what do the prospective employees want, overall?
Different types of employees are looking for different things, Scaringi notes.
While knowledge workers are highly interested in flexibility and remote-work options, low-skill workers are looking for employment that lets them learn, and develop additional skills.
One thing that’s consistent is meaningful work, she said. Candidates want to engage with employers that value their opinions and their contributions, beyond just raw work output. “This is why having a strong culture, and communicating this culture clearly as part of your employee brand, can help you with attracting and retaining talent,” she said.
Meanwhile, many employers are having to cast a wider net for new staff, and local agencies are involved in activating this labour pool.
Janet Madume, Executive Director of the Welland Heritage Council & Multicultural Centre/Employment Solutions, says her agency, working with partners, offers a full-service employment division through ‘Employment Solutions’. It serves both newcomers and Canadian citizens in helping boost their opportunities to land sustainable employment.
Madume says after an Employment Ontario transformation, their services are more streamlined and outcome-focused in improving outcomes for an underserved population.
Coordinating efforts with settlement services “will benefit the labour market— especially after the great exodus, which has left many scrabbling for quality labour“ she said.
These hiring challenges and labour shortages are a hot topic for the Niagara Workforce Planning Board lately, says Vivian Kinnaird, CEO of the NWPB.
Provincial data from the Canadian Survey of Business Conditions, for the third quarter of 2022 indicates 59.6% of employers, across all industries, are finding that recruiting and retaining staff is more challenging than it was 12 months ago.
The NWPB offers higher-level solutions for Chamber members that are repeated by others: Enable flexible and remote-work options; compensate competitively by potentially expanding wage comparisons to Toronto and other markets; centre your work culture around wellbeing, trust and belonging (which leads to loyalty and devotion), and be explicit about this when attracting talent. Expanding your talent pool is also essential.
Current, statistically representative local data is lacking, Kinnaird concedes. To that end, the NWPB is rolling out a new Employee Attraction and Retention Survey to learn more about our local workforce dynamics and needs.
This survey will build on their past research related to how employees search for jobs, what attracts them to apply, and what helps keep them in a job (e.g., 2020-21 Labour Market Insights Survey, 2019 Labour Market Survey, and the 2019 Employee Engagement & Retention Study which was conducted in partnership with the SNCC).
“We anticipate that compensation, meaningfulness and non-compensation benefits will continue to be important factors in attracting employees to jobs, and employees want to feel their work is meaningful,” adds Rachel Crane, Leadership and Engagement Lead for NWPB.
“When employees feel respected and included in the workplace, they are in turn more devoted to their work.”
“We are also interested in learning about changing workforce demographics and work options, pushed by globalization, the rise of technology and the Gig Economy,” she says. “There has been a pandemic-inspired re-evaluation of work and life priorities. All of this is impacting our local workforce.”
Information from this study will help employers — as well as business owners, managers, HR personnel— understand what’s important to employees, and how best to support them on the job.
This survey will be offered for free, and is open to all local businesses and employers.
If you are interested in applying this survey to your workplace, please email firstname.lastname@example.org In addition, the NWPB also promotes tools and resources to support workforce development and learning, and is cooperating with partners in the Employment Ontario network, such as YMCA of Niagara Immigrant and Employment Services, to help employers connect with new talent pools through projects such as Employer LINK.
“Employers everywhere are having real trouble getting the people they need, to fill critically -important jobs,” says South Niagara Chambers of Commerce Executive Director Dolores Fabiano. “Our Chamber partners in this ‘Let’s Talk’ edition offer some insights to solutions. We’d love to hear how you are coping, and what we can learn from this.”
Please e-mail us your thoughts, which will be accessible to Chamber members— you can remain anonymous if you’d like.