Canadian Companies Challenged by Shrinking Labour Pool

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Author John Towler, Ph.D.
Date Published February 01, 2006
Original Publication Exchange Magazine

The falling birth rate and the impending retirement of the baby boomer generation present a challenge to Canadian companies. According to a recent survey from Deloitte, "Canadian organizations are less prepared to address labour force issues than their global counterparts".

"Canada is particularly vulnerable to the demographic changes that are leading to a shortage of skills and a threat to business performance worldwide," said Ian Cullwick, National Human Capital Practice Leader, Deloitte. "It's imperative that Canadian organizations develop strategies now before irreparable harm to economic growth results."

The sentiment is echoed by Conestoga College president John Tibbits. Tibbits, a passionate promoter of continuous learning, has been trumpeting the need for skills development at all levels in the education system. He notes that competitiveness in today's work place is "way beyond" what he had to face when he was younger and getting started. "It was much easier in the past; [today] it's more difficult, much more complex."

One of the major differences that exist into today's workplace is that organizational layers have diminished. Tibbits says, "In the old days they had these huge hierarchies. Those days have diminished. You are in much more competition; you have sharper people on the floor."

The Deloitte survey stated that Canadian businesses are feeling pressure from the draining labour pool in many areas. "An overwhelming majority (86%) of Canadian respondents say they are experiencing or anticipating talent shortages for salaried staff, compared to 74% of global respondents."

Further, the study stated the imbalance is in both front office and shop floor. "Talent shortage is not limited to white-collar workers as 66% of Canadian respondents are experiencing or anticipating the same shortage age among hourly staff, versus 54% of global respondents."

The next generation of employees will need even a bigger leg up. Says Tibbits, "We have to get parents and the community to under-stand that, first and foremost, our first line of competitive advantage is the product coming out of our high schools, what companies require, for entry level jobs. They want people, with reasonable math skills, good literacy skills, to be good with people."

Sixty-three percent of Canadian organizations polled believe talent management issues are a significant cause of Canada's lagging productivity. As well, 51% think the shrinking talent pool is limiting their ability to meet production requirements and customer demand.

The report goes on to say the greatest concern is "the fact that awareness of the issues among Canadian organizations has not translated into action."

Tibbits understands the inherent difficulties of education. He is grateful for the money that has come from the province, but he would like to see more community dollars go into education at the apprenticeship level.

As president of Conestoga College Tibbits is actively involved in making his institution the best it can be. But so too are all post secondary education facilities. Recently, the provincial government has said that they want to have an additional 7000 apprentices trained on an annual basis within the next two or three years. "We could step up here and we could be something . We could grab hold of anywhere from a thousand to two thousand additional spaces which would really, be a great combination and accelerator network, looking to move ahead in nanotechnology, biotech at the University of Guelph. At the same time the foundational elements of skills is there. So any family can say - whether it's science, business or whether its arts programs - this is the place to be."

To help make it happen, Tibbits looks to the local ' municipalities. From "the municipalities in the last eight or nine years, I think you'll find close to $100 million in local tax money has gone to the University of Waterloo. Not a nickel has gone to the college, and I think we have a real opportunity right now."

John Towler is a Psychologist and the founder of Creative Organizational Design. Please send comments about this article to jtowler@creativeorgdesign.com. For more information, please contact us.

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