Montreal needs ‘brand’ new recruitment strategy

Low birth rate and immigration among issues discussed at summit. English speakers welcome

Montreal needs to brand itself as a city where the best and the brightest want to come to work if it hopes to survive the looming talent shortage, according to the president of online job board Monster.ca.

“It’s going to take a very well defined strategy for Montreal to address this issue and part of this strategy will be about becoming better at promoting the city and the benefits of the city to a much broader audience,” said Gabriel Bouchard.

“It’s very tough now because we’re competing with many other countries around the world that are all facing the same issue.”

While the aging workforce and the wave of baby boomer retirements will affect all of Canada, Quebec will be especially hard hit for several reasons. With only 9.8 births per 1,000 people in 2004, the province’s birth rate is among the lowest in the world, according to the Institut de la statistique du Québec, the province’s statistics agency.

The province’s distinct francophone culture also makes it more difficult to attract and retain non-French-speaking immigrants, further limiting its ability to grow the population.

Quebec needs to address this demographic dilemma and find ways to improve and promote its innovation and creativity, global competitiveness and talent development and education if it wants to remain economically competitive, said a manifesto last year by 12 business, government and academic professionals, including former Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard.

In October, Montreal’s McGill University, Washington, D.C.-based HR consulting firm Human Capital Institute (HCI) and the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal held a summit to figure out how Montreal and Quebec can address these human capital challenges.

While the more than 20 speakers had many different opinions, one clear consensus came out of the day-long summit, said Allan Schweyer, president of HCI.

“I think everybody agreed the most important thing to keep Montreal competitive is to be able to attract and retain talent in the city,” he said from his office in Montreal.

Monster.ca’s Bouchard, who was one of the panellists, approached this challenge from a marketing and communication standpoint. Just as an organization has to brand itself as an employer of choice to attract talent, Montreal needs to brand itself as a city of choice, he said.

Montreal has several strengths — the universities, the quality of life, the low cost of housing — but it needs to focus on one or two and build its brand around those characteristics, he said.

“It’s about a targeted approach. It’s impossible to be everything for everyone,” said Bouchard. “We need to focus on our strengths and put those strengths forward.”

Employers in Quebec also need to target their recruitment approaches, said panellist Michel Tougas, managing principal with consulting firm Towers Perrin in Montreal.

“What engages workers is very different depending on who the worker is,” he said. “The drivers of engagement vary dramatically by age group, by types of work, types of jobs.”

According to the 2005 Towers Perrin Global Workforce Study, workers aged 18 to 29 rate career advancement opportunities as the top attraction driver, while those over the age of 55 rate this as ninth out of 10. Older workers rated competitive retirement benefits as third on their list of attraction drivers, while this criterion didn’t even make the list for the younger workers.

Once organizations figure out what kind of talent they’ll need in the next five to 10 years, they need to ensure HR programs and total rewards offerings, such as training and development and work environment, will attract this kind of talent, said Tougas.

“It’s tailoring, or even in a lot of instances, changing their programs to be of more interest to those segments of workers,” he said.

The majority of summit participants agreed Quebec needs to invest more in post-secondary education, either by increasing transfers from the province or allowing universities and colleges to raise tuition, said Schweyer. Without continued investment, highly-respected schools like McGill University will no longer be competitive and cutting edge.

But once students have their highly-respected degrees, Quebec has to figure out a way to keep them when cities such as Toronto, New York, Mumbai and Seoul are all clamouring for talent.

“The talent and human capital issues around globalization are migration of talent and how easy it is for a McGill graduate, or a University of Quebec graduate, to pick up and leave right after their studies and go to New York or go to Shanghai, “ said HCI’s Schweyer.

It’s those recent graduates, the 25- to 34-year-old knowledge workers, who are most attractive and easiest to attract. As these workers age and begin to buy houses, get married and have children, their mobility drops from about 50 per cent to about 20 per cent, he said.

One idea to keep graduates is to offer some form of social contract, similar to what the Armed Forces does, said Monster.ca’s Bouchard. If the province agrees to subsidize some of the student’s tuition, that student must agree to stay in the province for a certain number of years.

“Can we afford to keep spending taxpayers’ money on training and educating those individuals and as a society not getting the benefits of that investment?” asked Bouchard.

Quebec’s demographics presented the biggest challenge for the summit’s participants, since provincial initiatives, such as inexpensive child care ($7 a day per child) and the new parental-leave program, have only increased the birth rate slightly.

“Even if you do change people’s minds and you get them having more kids, it takes 20 years before those kids get into the workforce,” said Schweyer.

Participants examined the problem of immigration as well. If Quebec wants to attract more immigrants, the government needs to invest more money in French language training for immigrants, said panellist Raphael Fischler, an associate professor at McGill’s school of urban planning.

In the province, where professional designations are legislated by laws, there needs to be more recognition of foreign degrees and designations, he added.

“Any place that wants to attract immigrants must provide the things for which they are looking,” said Fischler. “One of the great concerns articulated at the conference was whether or not Quebec was creating enough jobs for immigrants and whether it was opening jobs to immigrants.”

But increasing immigration isn’t the ultimate solution to the demographic dilemma either, said Schweyer. It’s hard to double immigration while maintaining rigour and still attracting the kind of skilled workers other provinces and countries also want.

“And yet if you could do that, double it, it still wouldn’t come close to erasing the demographic problem. To double it is near impossible, to triple it is impossible,” he said.

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