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Labour Pains

Labour Pains

By Rob North, YMCA Employment Services Job Developer

Every aspect of the economy goes through cycles

Interest rates rise and fall, consumer confidence balloons and deflates, capital is tight and capital flows. In macroeconomics, general equilibrium theory suggests that, in general, supply and demand of anything—including labour—will eventually result in the title of the theory: general equilibrium.

Sometimes history repeats itself, and sometimes a new history unfolds

It would seem that Canada’s labour market is firmly in new-history-writing mode. Even before the most recent COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, job vacancies in Canada were 100 basis points higher than they were in February, 2020. And while Statscan has yet to publish data from the summer months, we all know that the 4.1 per cent job vacancy rate is going to be much higher. That number is deceiving as not every vacancy shows up, and for some hard-hit sectors such as hospitality, manufacturing, and retail, the number is quite skewed.

From entry-level jobs commonly held by students, to well-paid trades and all sorts of occupations in between, people are staying away from sending out resumes. A number of businesses point to federal supports for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit as the reason, and this is certainly a factor. But there are others.

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For 18 months, governments, health units, and scientists have been ringing alarm bells and warning us all, rightly so, about the dangers of COVID-19. Much as many of us are relieved that vaccines are rolling out and some activity is returning to normal, a good portion of the labour market is not quite ready to set their concerns aside and rush back into the workplace. The fourth wave complicates this further. Add the challenges of finding daycare, elder care, and other supports, and the path back to a normal labour market becomes a meandering road with many branches, rather than a highway on-ramp.

Government supports such as the Canada Recovery Benefit are a matter of politics and a topic I’m going to stay away from. But there are other potential solutions that we, as community members, business owners, and business supporters, can implement ourselves rather than waiting for big politics and things outside our immediate individual influence to change.

Think total compensation, not just wages

The easiest, most obvious way to attract more qualified labour may be increasing wages. But before you go and up your hourly rate, recognize that things can get complicated fast and you can end up costing your operations a lot of money. Many people, both managers and potential employees, think about compensation as simply the money offered. But much of the time, this only tells part of the story. If you are not marketing your total compensation package to potential hires the way you would a product or service, you might be missing out on a pool of qualified candidates.

Think about it this way—imagine your real estate office uses a fee structure of 5.5 per cent and you buy big splashy ads but forget to mention that your services also include a $1,000 credit towards a company staging the property, a $1,000 voucher for a local moving company, and a $500 gift card from the local building centre. Because you failed to mention this, a potential customer signs up with the office across town whose fees are advertised at a quarter point lower. You had the better value, but the message didn’t get to the potential customer.

If the position you need to fill comes with things of value beyond a base rate, talk about them. We see ads all the time that fail to mention a benefit plan. Employers sometimes forget to talk about a pension-matching scheme, even a small one. Even things like employee discounts, free or low-cost meals, or other perks sometimes get skipped. It’s not always the hourly rate that interests a potential great hire. Think total compensation.

Highlight other perks

Many of us can tell a story about working for an organization that wasn’t top-shelf for wages, but the non-monetary pieces made up at least partially for the lower paycheque. Maybe you have flexible hours. Maybe you allow working from home one day a week. Find the non-financial stuff that makes your employees happy and talk it up.

Communicate your workplace culture

Culture can be difficult to describe, but you should try. If you can honestly say, “Now looking to add another rock star to our line-up of awesome, customer-centric pros. You can expect regular feedback, recognition for putting our clients first, and a training plan that makes sure that you’ve got everything you need,” you should. It sounds completely different than, “Help wanted. Now hiring a customer service rep.”

You’ve always marketed your products and services, now it’s time to market the roles that you’re hiring for. Tell your human resources story with a perception, not just numbers. As always, make sure what you’re advertising is true. And if your workplace culture needs, well, work, now is the time to address it.

Network, network, network

Finally, make use of your network. Let’s say someone comes in with years of experience in shipping and receiving but you’re not hiring for that position right now. You could steer the applicant in the direction of another business that is and, if karma kicks in, hopefully another person in your network sends you an application for the admin assistant you’ve been looking for.
If we think just a little bit differently, we can all help one another.

Please remember, too, that the YMCA Employment Centre is here to help. We can post positions at our centre and online, collect applications, match job seekers with available positions and, in some cases, even offer hiring incentives to help offset training costs. We’d be happy to speak to you further about these and other services. Just call 705-787-0349 or email [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you!

Rob North is a Job Developer with YMCA Employment Services – Midland


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