Help Wanted: Wind­sor’s labour chal­lenge

Short­age of qual­i­fied em­ploy­ees chok­ing growth of lo­cal econ­omy, ex­perts say

Windsor Star - - FRONT PAGE - DAVE WAD­DELL

Glen Cook’s mov­ing com­pany has been a go­ing con­cern in Wind­sor for three gen­er­a­tions, but now he can’t find new em­ploy­ees to ex­pand. Cook said he would hire six to 10 work­ers and add new trucks if he could find the help.

“I have to turn down about 30 per cent of the calls I get to book dates,” said the owner of Glen’s Mov­ing.

“I’ve been in busi­ness for 42 years and this is the worst I’ve ever seen it. Ev­ery busi­ness­man I know, from movers to tool and die and mould mak­ers, is hav­ing this prob­lem.”

On­tario Cham­ber of Com­merce mem­bers cite the in­abil­ity to find new em­ploy­ees as their big­gest prob­lem, ac­cord­ing to the re­sults of a sur­vey re­leased in Fe­bru­ary. Of the 60 per cent of busi­nesses look­ing to hire, 82 per cent ex­pe­ri­enced dif­fi­culty find­ing em­ploy­ees.

With the un­em­ploy­ment rate in the Wind­sor re­gion hov­er­ing around five per cent over the past year, fill­ing va­can­cies has been a chal­lenge for many busi­nesses. There were 2,752 job open­ings in Wind­sor-Es­sex in March. Since last Au­gust that num­ber of un­filled jobs has ranged from about 2,500 to just over 3,100.

Most of the va­can­cies were in sales and busi­ness de­vel­op­ment (15 per cent), hos­pi­tal­ity (14 per cent), man­u­fac­tur­ing (13 per cent), lo­gis­tics (10 per cent) and con­struc­tion (seven per cent).

Loblaws, Sco­tia­bank, Shop­pers Drug Mart, Wind­sor Re­gional Hos­pi­tal and Magna In­ter­na­tional are among the firms list­ing the most open­ings in re­cent months. Leav­ing these jobs un­filled comes with a hefty price tag — $600 mil­lion a year in lost rev­enue, ac­cord­ing to Wind­sor-Es­sex Re­gional Cham­ber of Com­merce pres­i­dent Matt Marc­hand. “Busi­nesses are turn­ing down work be­cause they don’t have enough em­ploy­ees to take it on,” he said. “It tells us the econ­omy isn’t per­form­ing to its full ca­pac­ity.” For many con­struc­tion firms, it’s just about re­tain­ing busi­ness, said Dave Colle, pres­i­dent of the Heavy Con­struc­tion As­so­ci­a­tion of Wind­sor and South­west­ern On­tario re­gional man­ager with Coco Paving.

“There’s lots of work avail­able,” he said. “But there’s a lim­ited amount of work you can do be­cause you can’t go out and get peo­ple. It’s a prob­lem for the whole in­dus­try. Com­pa­nies aren’t bid­ding on jobs out there be­cause of the short­age.” He ex­pects it to get worse over the next five years as skilled labour work­ers be­gin to re­tire.

“We used to get 10 peo­ple when we ad­ver­tised for a job, now we’re get­ting two or three qual­i­fied peo­ple. These are union jobs with good pay, pen­sion and ben­e­fits, too,” Colle said.

The stakes are huge in this eco­nomic poker game.

“It’s a global war for tal­ent,” Marc­hand said. “What­ever ju­ris­dic­tion fig­ures this out first is go­ing to be the big win­ner. If we don’t ad­dress these is­sues, we risk a break­down of so­cial co­he­sion be­cause some peo­ple will get left be­hind.” Jonathon Az­zopardi, pres­i­dent of Laval In­ter­na­tional and chair­per­son of the Cana­dian As­so­ci­a­tion of Mold Mak­ers, feels ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ing is at the cen­tre of the prob­lem. Af­ter the re­ces­sion of 2008-09, the sec­tor shrank con­sid­er­ably. For sev­eral years af­ter the crash, no new ca­pac­ity was be­ing cre­ated to re­place re­tir­ing work­ers and to ex­pand pro­duc­tion once man­u­fac­tur­ing burst back to life six years ago. “We’re still pulling peo­ple from other sec­tors of the econ­omy un­re­lated to man­u­fac­tur­ing, like the ser­vice in­dus­try and ed­u­ca­tion, to work in our own,” said Az­zopardi. “For em­ploy­ers, it’s no longer a mat­ter of hir­ing a good or a bad em­ployee. It’s not find­ing any­body at all to hire,” he said.

The many rea­sons for the labour short­age have come to­gether in “a per­fect storm,” said Adam Cas­tle, WEtech Al­liance’s di­rec­tor of ven­ture ser­vices. “It’s go­ing be one of the big chal­lenges of the next 10 to 15 years.”

Younger work­ers are look­ing for a bet­ter life-work bal­ance, he said. “They’re look­ing for some­thing spe­cific in how they want to

con­trib­ute to their com­mu­nity. It’s go­ing to be up to em­ploy­ers to ad­just their work cul­ture and en­vi­ron­ment for this gen­er­a­tion.” June Muir, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Wind­sor’s Un­em­ployed Help Cen­tre, said em­ploy­ers are ad­just­ing by adopt­ing flex­i­ble sched­ul­ing to make it eas­ier for work­ers to find trans­porta­tion and deal with child­care is­sues. Some are hir­ing two em­ploy­ees in­stead of one, so they can share the work and have more flex­i­bil­ity. How­ever, Muir said, her or­ga­ni­za­tion spends a sur­pris­ing amount of time up­grad­ing work­ers’ soft skills. These in­clude things like at­ti­tude, re­li­a­bil­ity, re­spon­si­bil­ity at work, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and un­der­stand­ing a job comes with ex­pec­ta­tions that need to be met. “Give me some­one with a good at­ti­tude and work ethic and I can train them to do the job, but I can’t give them a good at­ti­tude,” said David Bur­man, owner of Mr. Maid jan­i­to­rial ser­vice.

Out of ev­ery 10 job in­ter­views he sched­ules, two peo­ple show up, he said.

Em­ploy­ers would like to see soft skills be­come a pri­or­ity in the school cur­ricu­lum, per­haps in the form of a course or unit on what it means to be a good em­ployee. “I’d em­pha­size the im­por­tance of meet­ing ex­pec­ta­tions, dead­lines and be­ing re­li­able,” Marc­hand said. “You have to get out of your com­fort zone to grow. We need to en­cour­age young peo­ple to get com­fort­able feel­ing un­com­fort­able.”

How­ever, em­ploy­ers agreed the onus isn’t en­tirely on work­ers. Dharmesh Pa­tel, owner of Leam­ing­ton’s Qual­ity Inn Ho­tel and in­com­ing re­gional chair­man for the On­tario Restau­rant, Ho­tel, Mo­tel As­so­ci­a­tion, ad­mit­ted em­ploy­ers have to look at the role they’ve played in cre­at­ing a tran­sient, less loyal em­ployee pool.

With part-time and pre­car­i­ous work be­com­ing more com­mon, work­ers are grow­ing used to con­tract work or be­ing self-em­ployed. As com­pany pen­sions, ben­e­fits and other perks are cut, em­ploy­ers have elim­i­nated some of the most im­por­tant gen­er­a­tors of em­ployee loy­alty.

“Cer­tainly elim­i­nat­ing those things has re­duced em­ployee loy­alty,” said Pa­tel, who is look­ing to hire five em­ploy­ees for house­keep­ing and front desk ser­vices. “Per­haps it’s time to start look­ing at bring­ing back a few things, maybe add some new ideas,” he said.

At a re­cent sem­i­nar in Wind­sor aimed at help­ing the tourism and hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try at­tract and re­tain tal­ent, those in at­ten­dance heard 100,000 jobs in the sec­tor will go un­filled over the next decade in On­tario. “It’s like watch­ing a slow-mo­tion train wreck you’ve al­ways been told is com­ing,” said Adam Mor­ri­son, vice-pres­i­dent of the non-profit On­tario Tourism Ed­u­ca­tion Cor­po­ra­tion. “I know of ho­tels not open­ing up a floor of rooms be­cause they can’t get the house­keep­ing help to clean them. In­stead of both restau­rants in a ho­tel be­ing open, there’s only one.” Mor­ri­son added hos­pi­tal­ity and tourism em­ploy­ers in the pop­u­lar Muskoka re­gion are even of­fer­ing re­ten­tion bonuses of up to a $1,000 or iPads to sum­mer stu­dents to en­sure they stay through Labour Day. “It af­fects busi­ness be­cause those trav­el­ling for meet­ings need places to stay and eat,” he said. In the short-term, many em­ploy­ers, in­clud­ing the On­tario gov­ern­ment, are re­sort­ing to us­ing sign­ing or re­ten­tion bonuses to lure and keep work­ers.

The gov­ern­ment an­nounced an ini­tia­tive in De­cem­ber that of­fers school bus driv­ers three re­ten­tion bonuses over the next 18 months if they com­plete their ser­vice through the 2018-19 school year. Wind­sor Re­gional Hos­pi­tal pres­i­dent and CEO David Musyj said he doesn’t have that lux­ury. “The labour mar­ket is very dif­fi­cult right now,” he said. “It’s the tight­est I’ve seen it in two decades. It’s a buy­ers’ mar­ket across all hos­pi­tals.”

Cur­rently, Wind­sor Re­gional is try­ing to fill 60 po­si­tions — most to cover leaves, long-term con­tracts or part-time jobs.

“We’re a 24/7 op­er­a­tion, but some peo­ple don’t want to work cer­tain shifts, week­ends or part time,” said Musyj, who over­seas 4,000 em­ploy­ees. “It’s even worse for hos­pi­tals in the Greater Toronto re­gion. The pay scale is the same as here, but the cost of liv­ing is sub­stan­tially higher.”

PHO­TOS: DAX MELMER

Glen Cook, owner of Glen’s Mov­ing, says he would hire work­ers and add new trucks if he could find help. He’s not alone.

A “global war for tal­ent” has helped fuel the lo­cal labour short­age, says Wind­sor-Es­sex Re­gional Cham­ber of Com­merce pres­i­dent Matt Marc­hand.

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