A labour shortage across sectors is the latest challenge facing Canadian small and medium-sized businesses.
A recent study found that 55% of small and medium-sized businesses in Canada are having a hard time finding new employees. This in turn is affecting their business growth and capacity to deliver orders on time.
The study, based on two surveys conducted by the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), also found that 26% employers were struggling to retain staff.
Researchers spoke to 1,251 Canadian businesses and 3,000 employees for the study.
What may be causing a labour shortage?
There could be several reasons for a labour shortage.
Continual lockdowns in the past year may have led workers in the worst-affected sectors, such as food service and personal care, to upskill and/or look for work in other industries. Federal income support programs also made it possible for many to stay home and avoid taking up public-facing jobs during a pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also affected the number of temporary foreign workers, students and immigrants arriving in Canada that are a major source of labour.
How do I stay competitive during a labour shortage?
Employers should adapt their recruitment strategy to the changing labour market. Are you offering what candidates are looking for?
What may have worked to attract qualified workers before 2020, may not work in the current market transformed by the pandemic. We recommend that you:
Offer competitive pay and benefits
Whether you’re looking to hire more staff or retain existing employees, it is important that you offer a competitive salary and benefits, such as paid vacation, paid sick leave, healthcare support, employee perks, etc.
The BDC study found higher wages and more benefits to be the two main reasons employees surveyed were looking to switch jobs.
A good compensation package makes employees feel appreciated and motivates them to perform better.
Provide remote/hybrid/flexible work options
The past 18 months have demonstrated that remote workers can be just as productive as office-based staff. People’s tolerance for long, crowded work commutes has also waned. Remote work has proved especially beneficial for staff with childcare or caregiving responsibilities.
Flexible working hours or the option to work remotely (whether full-time or a few days per week) is now a perk sought (and expected) by most job seekers. The 2021 Hays Salary Guide reported that the option to work from home was listed as one of the “most desired benefits” by employees.
If the nature of your business or certain roles allow for remote work, it is highly recommended that you offer it.
A hybrid or remote workplace would also benefit employers. It would allow you to hire talented people from across Canada. It would also lower costs (rent, overhead expenses) associated with a physical workplace operating at full capacity.
But what if the work requires office-base staff?
In such a case you could take the pain out of commuting. You can do so by:
- Altering start and end times of work shifts so that your employees can commute during non-rush hours
- Providing shuttle services, parking subsidies, or reimbursements for long commutes
Spruce up your recruitment process
The hiring process is your chance to make a good first impression as well. You can ensure applicants have a positive experience by:
- Providing clear and realistic job descriptions. It is a good practice to separate the skills and qualifications you are looking for into “must have” and “nice to have”. Otherwise, you may end up discouraging talented applicants from applying just because they don’t meet all of the listed criteria.
- Provide clarity and transparency during the recruitment process. Make sure you conduct the interviews in a fair and objective manner to select the best person for the job. We’d recommend structured interviews that include behavioural questions. When you find a candidate who is the right fit for a job, they’re more likely to stay with the company.
- Offering a referral bonus to staff is also an effective strategy. If an employee refers a friend for a job position and that person gets hired, then the referring employee gets a cash bonus.
Make your workplace COVID-secure
A safe workplace will help reduce any anxiety or fear your employees may have about coming into work during a pandemic.
Follow public health measures, have relevant COVID-19 policies in place, set protocols on masking, hand hygiene, social distancing, staff and visitor screening, and encourage staff to get vaccinated.
A robust health and safety policy would not only put your employees at ease, but also help you stay compliant with your provincial health and safety laws.
Bonus advice: Invest in staff retention
You don’t want to lose experienced staff to competition during a labour shortage. Avoid such a scenario by ensuring you:
- Recognize and celebrate the achievements of your staff
- Offer salary and benefits at par with industry standards
- Provide opportunities for career advancement, be it through workshops, training, or mentorship programs
- Offer flexible work options to those who need it
- Mentor your employees to take on greater responsibilities and promote from within when looking to fill new roles
- Automate routine administrative work through smart HR software, such as BrightHR. Thus, freeing up your existing staff’s time to invest in upskilling and taking on additional roles.
Read our blog on employee retention strategies for small business owners for more tips.