Canadian Manufacturing

Companies fighting for skilled workers

The case for a Canadian labour strategy

OTTAWA—Businesses are battling it out for valuable employees in Canada’s rapidly changing labour market.

In our continued coverage of the five policy fixes that could boost Canadian manufacturing’s presence on the global stage, we examine the value of skilled workers and the impact they have on our businesses.

“Companies are now up against two factors—an aging workforce and a skills shortage that could last for decades,” says Glenn Hodgson, senior vice-president and chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada.

The board says Canada needs a national labour market strategy to navigate the potholes ahead.

“It needs to address immigration policies and make it easier to recruit skilled people from abroad,” Hodgson says.

Canada’s strategy should also consider under-represented groups such as disabled people and First Nations to fill its workforce shortages.

Nowhere is the talent gap being felt more than in manufacturing, according to a recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Two-thirds of CEOs from across industries said they were worried about the supply of skilled candidates. In manufacturing, the number of concerned CEOs jumped to three-quarters.

“The degree of technology and automation is driving some of this need as knowledgeable workers who can operate these smart plants are harder to come by,” says Louise Wilson, director of Pricewaterhouse Cooper’s People & Change Practice.

The emergence of global markets has thrown business owners yet another challenge and many are now thinking about moving their operations to where talent is more accessible.

They’re also making adjustments back at home.

“Organizations are realizing they need to tap into the aging labour pool and find ways to keep those workers around for longer but still meet their unique lifestyle needs,” Wilson says.

Then there’s the younger generation of workers with a whole different set of values and job expectations.

“It’s no longer one size fits all. Managers are looking at sometimes up to five generations in their organization and each one requires a unique strategy,” she adds.

As the war for skilled workers heats up, companies should be carefully mapping out how to handle the competition.

“People are becoming more aggressive in going after talent in other organizations. Workplaces need a strategy built into their overall risk framework to fend off corporate raiders,” Wilson says.

“It’s not easy because human behavior is very complex—the decision to choose one company’s package over another involves a lot more than just compensation,” she adds.

Talented workers seek job variety, including tasks that allow them to show leadership and the support to develop new skills.

The Conference Board’s report says the government should consider providing employers with incentives for training and development.

Even with that support, the report says managers will have no choice but to ramp up their own investments in employee development.

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