There’s been a lot of talk about the labour shortage in Canada. The red-hot Alberta oil patch captures the majority of headlines, complete with anecdotes of fast-food workers who command $25 an hour to flip burgers, but recruiters from St. John to Victoria will likely tell you the labour shortage is not confined to Western Canada.
While there may be a talent shortage in the traditional sense — educated, loyal, trained people who work for the same employers from day to day and year to year — the real problem is rooted in how employers approach and prioritize the resources and support required for administrative and non-core tasks within organizations.
For employers that determine internal staffing is the only way to go for each and every task, the labour shortage is very real and it’s only going to get worse. Ontario is expected to be short more than 360,000 skilled employees by 2025, according to a Conference Board of Canada report released by Ontario’s Workforce Shortage Coalition last fall.
Similarly, even with a softening economy, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business has reported job shortages in construction, agriculture, hospitality, retail services, manufacturing, wholesale, business services, education and health services, finance and transportation.
Demographic patterns don’t help. Baby boomers, who loyally toiled for the same employer year after year, have swapped their time cards for golf clubs and are being replaced by a highly skilled Generation-X workforce that may not plan on staying with one job or company throughout their career. Employees entering the workforce in recent years crave constant stimulation, rapid upward mobility and ever-changing variety, though even these trophies don’t guarantee they will stick around.
It’s definitely an HR challenge. And in a perfect world, every organization would have an elite cadre of HR professionals who could focus all their attention on attracting and retaining top talent. Free to focus on nothing more than human capital, they’d design succession plans, develop training and mentoring regimens, create employee health and wellness programs and network with other HR professionals to share best practices.
But in reality, many HR professionals have no choice but to grind away the hours on transactional tasks, from checking benefits claims to tracking sick days, all while struggling to stay compliant with ever-changing provincial and federal regulations.
In turn, as less time is spent on strategic HR, it becomes harder to retain talent and attract qualified candidates to replace staff who leave for greener pastures. And should an organization have the great fortune to become successful, workforce needs quickly outpace the capacity of the HR department and systems, resulting in fewer qualified hires, neglected employees and burnout.
Tackling non-core activities in-house can be an incredible drain on any organization. Consider how legislative changes — such as Ontario’s health-care premium or Quebec’s new parental insurance plan premiums — require HR departments to retrain and retool in order to stay compliant. Is it really any wonder it’s a challenge to find qualified people for this sort of job?
A better approach, regardless of the sector or size of an organization, is to focus single-mindedly on the functions and factors that are essential to driving the business forward and the people who will excel in those roles. Recruit them carefully, nurture them constantly, reward them periodically and promote them rapidly. Will it be hard to find and keep these people? Probably. Will it be easier if you’re not distracted by non-core tasks? Absolutely.
Look for outside help that is specialized, reputable, scalable and ahead of the curve. Expect and demand partners that will dramatically reduce — or entirely divest — your organization of regulatory issues, capital costs, upgrades and, most of all, labour costs and HR resources in non-core areas.
By alleviating non-critical functional areas, businesses will spend less time running the business and more time growing the business.
Janice MacLellan is director of industry relations at ADP Canada in Toronto and vice-chairman of the Canadian Payroll Association’s board of directors. For more information, visit www.adp.ca.