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Where Have All the Workers Gone?

Dive In
  • Writer's pictureThe CareerBeacon Team

Updated: Mar 25

Currently, the workforce participation for those aged 25-54 is at 88% –the highest participation recorded. Even with this historic high, there is still a shortage of workers.  We simply do not have enough people to fill all the open jobs. Some sectors and some provinces are being affected more than others.

Every province is feeling the pinch. Every industry is feeling the pinch. Every employer is feeling the pinch. Yes, even those tech companies, with their recent mass layoffs, will feel it again soon enough. Because this situation is not going away anytime soon. A bit like COVID-19, we must accept it as a new normal. Live with it. Deal with it.

So what can you do about it?

It’s a simple case of supply and demand. There are more jobs in Canada than workers to fill them. According to StatsCan, the unemployment-to-job vacancy ratio is at a historical low.

No, it’s not because younger workers are too busy being TikTok influencers. Well, maybe a tiny part of it is – but more on that later. The reality is – there are not enough younger workers to replace the baby boomer exodus. While we can partly blame the pandemic for speeding up this departure, it’s not the whole picture. We have been saying for years there will be a major talent shortage when the “boomers” retire.  

Here we are, and it doesn’t seem we’ve done a dang thing to prepare. Unlike the pandemic, many of us saw this coming – we just failed to prepare for it.

Easier said than done? Yes, everything is easier said than done. But humans are resilient, innovative and adaptable. So what can you do about it?

Currently the workforce participation for the aged 25-54 is at 88%. This is the highest participation on record.

Here are our top five tactics to address the labour shortage now:

1. Be inclusive in your hiring practices.

Hire Untapped Talent 

Almost half a million Canadians with a disability are unemployed despite being able to work. The rate of employment for Indigenous people is 56%.  Women who left the labour force during the pandemic have not returned to the same levels pre-pandemic. The rate of welcoming newcomers to Canada decreased during the pandemic. Even before 2020, there was an unemployment issue, and certainly underemployment of new Canadians. 

Many in these communities rely on support networks to find meaningful work. Employers need to know where to find and engage with this talent. One tactic is to work with community outreach centres that employ career counsellors. These counsellors work with unemployed and under-employed individuals that are ready, willing and able to work. If you are an inclusive employer, these candidates want to know about you.  

Get Rid of Background Checks

1 in 7 Canadians have a criminal record – so chances are you already employ people with a conviction. If your organization requires background checks, review thoroughly to determine the applicable roles versus making this a full sweep requirement. For roles requiring a background check, ensure you’re not discriminating against individuals charged with a criminal offence.  

In the criminal justice system, Black and Indigenous people are over-represented by 3x and 5x their share of the population.  The provincial Human Rights Acts prevent criminal record discrimination in BC, MB, ON, QC, NL, and the territories. Not so in AB, SK, NS, NB and PEI. This presents a challenge and an opportunity for all employers. 

Some enterprising organizations have gone so far as to train inmates during their incarceration for immediate employment upon their release.  This is life-changing for inmates who rarely get a second shot – unless it’s for more jail time. It’s exceptional for the employer to tap into a group of underrepresented workers who will become some of their most loyal employees.

Go Outside Your Network.

Make new connections. Your Uber driver? They probably have an engineering degree from another country. The telemarketer that wants your opinion on the latest poll? Most likely has a Ph.D. from another country. Too often, we rely heavily on our network, and end up skewing to hiring “like-minded people.” A company full of the same type of people who think the same way is a recipe for disaster.

Hire untapped talent

2. Do away with unrealistic expectations.

Does a salesperson need to have a university degree? Do you need 25 bullets of requirements for any job? Does every job require previous experience? 

It’s easy to get stuck in the “we’ve always done it this way” routine. However, we must take a step back and reassess the necessary qualifications. Both from a job fit level and an inclusion level. Requiring a university degree automatically excludes most individuals from a lower-income background. Jobseekers can gain many skills and qualifications through experience. There will always be jobs that require specialized training or education but ensure those are the only ones that list it as a requirement.

Similarly, asking for X years of experience –with the rapid technological change are you asking for more years of experience than what is possible? Be open to experiences from other countries and other fields of study. This opens up your talent pool and will bring new and innovative ideas to your organization.

Do away with unrealistic expectations.

3. Pay more

Minimum wage across Canada ranges between $11.81 and $16.00. If you’re trying to support a family or even yourself with these wages, it is nearly impossible without the help of food banks and other support. Many minimum wage workers have two or three jobs to make ends meet. 

Enter COVID-19 and the “great resignation.” In particular, food services and other low-paying industries have struggled because people just won’t work for so little.  Similarly, with healthcare workers, personal care workers, and teachers.

These are vital positions that are going unfilled. Understandably many of these private-sector employers are struggling to stay in business. Public sector workers are increasingly striking – or threatening to strike.  

All organizations should undergo a compensation review of all their roles. We are all spending more than ever on the basics. If wages don’t keep up, we are heading for another kind of pandemic at some point.

Recognize every individual for their contributions. Flexibility, purpose, and belonging rank high in employee satisfaction. However, as Maslow so wisely declared, we humans have a hierarchy of needs. Physiological needs are at the base –  food, clothing, and shelter. Once achieved, we seek to fulfill our safety needs – financial and personal security and well-being. Security and stability are paramount, which starts with paying our employees appropriately.

Pay more

4. Be flexible.

The younger generation is not all employed as TikTok influencers. However, many are attracted to gig work. What may have started as a necessity has become a viable living for many. Nothing is stopping any employer from creating a gig economy within their workforce.

Many females left the workforce in disproportionate numbers during the pandemic. Increased childcare and eldercare didn’t allow women to participate in the workforce at the same level, and many have still not returned. To attract and retain women, flexibility plays a key role. This doesn’t mean only allowing employees to work from home.  Flexibility comes in many forms. Allow for flexible scheduling and provide on-the-job daycare. Start a work share program.

Adopt the 4-day work week. Ask your employees and candidates what they need to succeed at work and at home.

This flexibility may even attract the Baby Boomers who are so rapidly exiting the workforce.

Be flexible

5. Hire faster.

We live in a fast-paced world. Thousands of search results are at your fingertips within a millisecond on Google. You can purchase on Amazon in mere seconds. The best service providers respond to your requests quickly. We value ease and speed in our interactions.

So is it “ok” to leave candidates waiting for a response for weeks or months? It’s not. On average, a job seeker will apply to seven jobs. If you are waiting weeks to reach out or get back to them with “next steps,” chances are they have already accepted an offer elsewhere.  

As for ease – it’s time to look at your recruitment process. When was the last time a talent acquisition leader applied for a job at their company? What about the CEO? Chances are, when a senior leader does take the time to apply, they will be shocked and disappointed at the experience. There are bound to be gaps causing candidates to abandon their applications.

Make your application process easier and faster. Respond to all candidates. Those that you reject now may be the ones you hire in future.

Hire faster

Finding Where Job Candidates Are For Hiring

Are we going to change this labour crisis overnight? No. The ideas we have presented are easier said than done. So start by adopting one of these tactics. Or come up with ones that work better for your organization – because this problem is not going away. Never has the world of work looked so weird. Now is the time to show our resilience, innovation, and adaptability. As talent acquisition professionals and leaders, we have the awesome challenge and opportunity to make work better for all of us.

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