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Businesses face shortage of skilled workers and young employees: report

February 1, 2022   by (CP) Leah Golob

TORONTO – Canadian executives say the biggest challenges facing businesses right now are a shortage of skilled workers and finding young employees, according to a recent survey.

The poll, conducted by Environics Research Group on behalf of CERIC, an organization dedicated to advancing career development in Canada, found that 75 per cent of executives are finding a shortage of skilled workers to be challenging compared to 68 per cent who cited this as a problem in 2013.

Sixty-six per cent also say a struggle to find young workers is a challenge, up from 51 per cent who said the same in 2013, when the survey was last done. The age demographic of young workers was not defined in the survey.

While industries like education, hospitality, agriculture and manufacturing are facing the biggest difficulties finding young workers, Environics said it was a cross-sector issue.

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The cause is likely a mix between young workers not applying for certain jobs and employers not being satisfied with the applicant pool, said Candy Ho, vice-chair of CERIC and assistant professor of Integrative Career and Capstone Learning at the University of the Fraser Valley.

When young people look to apply for jobs, they might see a skills gap issue where there’s really a “skills awareness gap” issue, Ho said.

Young people would benefit from reflecting on the transferable skills they’ve gained from education and other life experiences outside of direct work experience, but they don’t always do so, she added.

“Sometimes they overlook the holy grail of positions thinking that they don’t qualify but in fact they have a ton of experience they can offer employers.”

Many of these might be considered “soft skills,” such as a positive attitude and good communication skills, which are becoming increasingly desirable, she added.

“We’ve learned that we can help people develop and train them on the technical skills. It’s the transferable skills and the human skills that are more difficult to find in the right candidate because it speaks about fit and the organizational culture.”

Yet, employers are hesitant to invest in training employees for fear of losing them shortly after, Ho said.

While 73 per cent of executives said in the study that employers have a responsibility to provide career management programs to their employees, only 27 per cent have this kind of program in place.

Some organizations that have been able to attract young workers start skills training early.

E-commerce company Shopify has been trying to close the gap between higher education and the workplace with a skills development program called Dev Degree. Launched in 2016, Dev Degree is a work-integrated learning experience where participants receive free tuition, a salary and a full-time role after graduation.

“We continue to see a healthy pipeline of applications across all of our open roles, and in particular among our early talent programs,” said Kimberley Mullins, director of talent development at Shopify.

The company says they’ve also been able to attract workers with a remote-first model.

The pandemic has given many people extra responsibilities, particularly around caregiving, so more young workers, and workers of all ages, are looking for arrangements that are remote, part-time, project-based or freelance, Ho said.

Aside from flexible working arrangements, employers also need to refine their recruitment efforts if they’re to attract young workers.

Ho recommended they think of job postings as “love letters” to potential candidates.

A job posting should show the organization’s values so that employees can start to picture themselves within the company, she said.

And, to not unnecessarily weed out candidates, it’s important to clarify that a lot of desirable traits listed are not always crucial for the job.

The Environics telephone survey, done between Nov. 18 and Dec. 17, included 501 randomly selected Canadian senior-level employees responsible for hiring, training and career development within their organization.