Worker shortage creates crisis in Canada
Canada is facing a hiring crisis. You'd think that workers hit hard by the pandemic would be scrambling for work, but things have changed.
Gone are the days when employers would post a job and the resumes would start pouring in. According to a new study from the Business Development Bank of Canada, small- and medium-sized businesses across the country can't find enough workers to fill job vacancies.
Just ask Harj Samra, chief revenue officer for PocketPills, a Surrey-based online pharmacy. Just before the pandemic hit, the company was in expansion mode.
"There's more technology companies that are also requesting the same engineers that we want," Samra said.
He says it has been a challenge as the operation expanded into Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia, and more recently Alberta.
"Small businesses owners have been put through the wringer during COVID," said Dan Kelly, CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
The Business Development Bank of Canada’s study shows that 55 per cent of small- and medium-sized businesses across the country have been unable to fill job vacancies for three or four months, and 26 per cent are having trouble retaining workers.
"The pandemic has been difficult for a lot of people, so we saw more Canadians retire during the pandemic than before," said Pierre Cléroux, BDC chief economist.
Retirements are expected to remain high at least until 2026, and 20 per cent of workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic changed their field of employment.
Some of the hiring difficulties include a lack of candidates, lack of skills and lack of experience.
The BDC study suggests employers need to be more flexible in hiring by allowing people to work from home, offering more compensation and benefits and more internal training. They also need to set up formal recruitment procedures.
"So if you are able to offer this flexibility, you might be able to win some talent," added Cléroux.
Over the past 12 months, the BDC says businesses have offered more flexible work arrangements, trained less-qualified workers and recruited younger workers and students.
"We've been hiring both our own internal recruiters and outside recruiters to help," said Samra.
PocketPills also relies heavily on automation, which the BDC says is key to relieving some of the strain brought on by worker shortages. The company has an automated pill dispensing system that also checks the prescriptions to make sure they are correct and has a system to automate response to about 1,000 text messages a day. Samra says that allows them to serve 15 million Canadians with same-day delivery.
The BDC study shows that 61 per cent of businesses that adopted new technologies and automation find it very easy or somewhat easy to hire.
However, machines still won't replace people. During the pandemic, immigration dropped substantially, but the federal government has ramped up programs and hopes to add more than 400,000 new residents in 2021.
"Honestly, the shortage of labour is very gripping right now,” said Kelly. “It was an issue pre-pandemic, but it's so much more acute at the moment.”