Alberta government wants to eliminate ‘dumb rules’ that act as barriers to employment

Calgary forum attendees also talk about how small employers can compete in tight labour markets

The Alberta government wants to hear from businesses in the province about any barriers to finding desperately needed workers. Iris Evans, the province’s Minister of Employment, Immigration and Industry, told attendees at a Calgary Economic Development (CED) forum that she needs their help to do better to improve labour conditions in Alberta.

“I will be eternally grateful,” she told the audience, for any suggestions they might have. “There are fewer people to go around.”

Housing shortage, lack of respect for trades

Evans pointed the finger at the shortage of affordable housing in Alberta as a significant contributing factor to the labour shortage. But another is the fact that “we don’t respect the trades in high school, and we need machinists and welders and so on very badly.”

Provincial nominee program expanding

Evans also touted the expansion of the provincial nominee program (PNP), which is growing to 2,500 this year, 5,000 in 2008-2009 and 8,000 in 2010.

PNPs are a way provinces can identify desirable immigrants and get their applications to come to Canada fast-tracked by the federal government.

Eliminating ‘dumb rules’

Evans said the province is committed to reducing provincial regulations which act as barriers to filling jobs.

“If there’s a rule so dumb it shouldn’t exist anymore, then it shouldn’t exist anymore,” she said. “E-mail me if you know of any dumb rules… if you don’t tell me, I’ll keep doing dumb things I don’t know about.”

The forum

Evans was speaking at CED’s CalgaryWorks latest Building Calgary’s Talent Forum at the Telus Convention Centre on June 21. After her speech, she gave CED president Bruce Graham a cheque for $100,000 to support the CalgaryWorks program.

CalgaryWorks was launched in 2005 as a response to increasing labour and skill shortages in the Calgary region.

The money comes at a good time, as the situation in Calgary is expected to get worse before it gets better.

“Companies have to get creative and focus on becoming an employer of choice,” said Adam Legge, director of research and business information for CED. “Three years ago, Calgary had an unemployment rate of five or six per cent. Now it’s three per cent.”

Challenges for small employers

At the forum, one of the challenges that was discussed was the one facing small employers.

Art Froehlich, president of AdFarm and one of the panelists, said there are several challenges facing smaller companies in retaining employees. First, the booming energy and high-tech sectors can, and do, pay more.

Second, the chance for advancement is seen as greater in a large company. Third, the perks simply can’t compete — smaller businesses just can’t afford them at the same level.

Froehlich said his company competes for employees by offering a share of ownership and a chance to be an entrepreneur. Because of that, employee performance at AdFarm is “outstanding,” he said.

April Shand, manager of HR with Divestco and another panelist, said her company’s turnover rate is 12 per cent, which she called “not bad for a company with such rapid growth.”

But it’s not money that is causing employees to leave.

“Bigger salaries hasn’t been what’s led our people to leave, it’s been longer-term employees who liked working for a smaller company,” said Shand. “When a company grows, not all employees want to see it expand.”

Divestco uses a combination of strategies to retain its employees.

“Being able to offer a suite of offering to current and prospective employees is key,” she said. “It’s the package of benefits that’s important, not one single great perk.”

Shand said Calgary businesses are a bit behind the curve when it comes to keeping their employees happy.

“But, in fairness, no one could have known this market was coming,” she said.

Margaret Bonham, in charge of airport screeners for Garda, said her company keeps its employees happy by offering a retention bonus of $5,000 for a year’s service.

“We also offer a referral plan and incentives for overtime, including being eligible for a cash draw,” said Bonham.

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