Cities come to HR’s aid

Hamilton, Calgary and Edmonton launch HR-based initiatives

Readying to face the competition for skilled workers, cities across Canada are honing their efforts to better use — or capitalize on — local talent pools.

In the past year, Hamilton, Calgary and Edmonton have each launched initiatives to improve and showcase the competitiveness of their labour forces.

In Hamilton, the focus is on convincing small- and medium-sized businesses that they might be better employers of some of the city’s over-qualified, degree-holding taxi drivers, for example.

In Calgary, they are beginning to mine the hidden talents of Aboriginal, disabled and immigrant populations. And out of Edmonton, come leaders pitching economic development based on the skills of the people already living and working there.

Which makes all three cities part of a trend.

Of primary concern to HR people and organizations in Calgary is how to make better use of the unemployed and the under-employed. Looming skill shortages prompted the Calgary Chamber of Commerce to form the city’s Talent Pool Development Society. Its purpose is to persuade businesses to accept employees from non-traditional sources.

“In any given company, it really does come down to what the CEO’s understanding is,” says Julie Ball, Talent Pool’s executive director. “So we need to make sure they are aware of cultural differences. They need to know, for example, that among some immigrants the simple act of even looking for a job can be foreign. In some countries, your family determines your career. So when you get here you may have no idea of how to network or do other things people normally do to look for work.”

Similarly in Hamilton, the Hamilton Training Advisory Board (HTAB) is giving CEOs no excuse for not knowing where or how to find workers, hidden or otherwise. In April, following a city-wide needs assessment, HTAB produced a comprehensive guide to a wide range of HR specialists and agencies entitled the Human Resources Directory for Hamilton.

But it is just the beginning of a larger awareness campaign.

“We’re holding an Immigration Summit in May,” says HTAB’s executive director Judy Travis. “And this summer we’ll also be launching a new talent portal called My Hamilton.ca that will complement the federal talent portal.”

In doing so, Travis echoes what her colleagues in Calgary and Edmonton also say: there’s a strong need to develop more of such consciousness-raising tools.

“Small- and medium-sized businesses, as we all know, are what will drive economic growth. But they can’t grow unless they have the talent they need,” says Travis. “And we know that by 2011 in our case that all labour force growth is going to come from immigrants. Companies need to know that and be prepared for it.”

Stephen Chait, board secretary to the Economic Developers Association of Canada, says there’s no doubt that “communities are presenting themselves to the world in more sophisticated ways these days. Communities are now showcasing the superior qualities of their labour force, of their lifestyle and of their existing business strengths.”

None more so than Edmonton. City representatives arrived in force in Toronto in April for the first stop on an aggressive national and international campaign to attract more people and business to North America’s most northerly city.

Its “Edmonton Edge” presentation, led off by Mayor Stephen Mandel at the Splendido Bar & Grill, was a splendid demonstration of the “talent, resources and opportunities” inherent in Edmonton.

“We put this show on the road because we wanted to make people aware of what is going on in Edmonton today,” says Allan Scott, president and CEO of the Edmonton Economic Development Corp.

“Yes, we have our traditional strengths in oil, gas, transportation and logistics. But now with the people we have at the University of Alberta and two colleges and the new national institute of nanotechnology, they’re also making the city an engine of high-tech research and development. Others have made our health care superb. And still others have created a symphony orchestra and theatre that are world class.”

That people-rich pitch is right on the mark, according to Chait.

“It used to be things like a city’s greenfield space or the cost of hydro that determined whether businesses moved in,” says Chait, who also heads economic development for the Town of Markham north of Toronto.

“Now the most important thing is whether your community can offer qualified people at all levels, both line and leadership. HR has become paramount today, all else is secondary.”

Andy Shaw is a Markham, Ont.-based freelance writer.

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