Smaller employers looking to hire but can’t find workers

By David Brown
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/23/2002

Despite economic uncertainty, small- and medium-size employers are confident about the year ahead and want to increase staffing levels, according to a recent survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).

The study predicts a net national increase in staffing levels of about 3.6 per cent, this would amount to about 250,000 new jobs across the country and 81 per cent of those would be full-time positions, states the report, Business Outlook 2002. More than 35 per cent of organizations expect to expand workforces, and just 11 per cent expect a decrease.

The war for talent may have abated slightly for large companies, not so for the smaller ones. In fact, more organizations report a shortage of qualified labour this year than last year, said Doug Bruce, a senior economist with CFIB. In a survey last year, 47.8 per cent said they were having difficulty finding staff, that has risen to nearly 50 per cent, he said. Last year’s also reported that at least 250,000 jobs were going unfilled at the country’s smaller organizations.

The shortage of labour for small- and medium-size employers continues to represent a fundamental problem, said Bruce. Last year’s revelations were intended to spur debate about the problem of labour shortages and in fact there does seem to be more discussion, if little concrete action.

He said more must be done by the government to help small- and medium-size employers find more employees. The Agreement on Internal Trade was supposed to make it easier for workers’ qualifications to be recognized across the provinces but the AIT hasn’t been effective, he said. “There is no political will,” he said, and because of that significant barriers continue to make it difficult for people to move between provinces to find work. Consequently many jobs go unfilled.

For example, in the latest salvo in a pitched battle between Quebec and Ontario, Premier Mike Harris announced earlier this month that Ontario will stop Quebec construction workers from working in Ontario in retaliation for similar barriers put up by Quebec.

Nationally the positive hiring projections in the midst of a downsizing in the economy “demonstrates further the strong confidence among Canada’s smaller employers as they continue to expand,” states the report.

Hiring projections aren’t uniform across the country, with above average hiring rates expected in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island and more pessimistic forecasts for British Columbia and New Brunswick. By sector, business services, agriculture, manufacturing, construction and hospitality services all have the brightest outlooks, while less hiring will be done in primary products and retail.

Typically with surveys that ask for predictions, about one-third do better than they expected, another third do as expected and another third do worse, said Bruce.

Respondents to the latest survey were also asked about salary expectations for 2002 and fully 60 per cent said they will be offering some wage increases. Almost one-quarter expect increases to exceed inflation (projected to be two per cent), one-third plan to raise wages to match inflation and one-third said they won’t be increasing wages at all. Only 0.8 per cent said they will have to reduce wages.

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