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Labour shortage a pandemic by-product

The labour shortage in many areas of the Canadian economy is a consequence of the pandemic along with long-standing government and business practices.
WorkForce
Where will Canada get its needed workers from? And will there be incentives to keep people employed in crucial industries? Photo: Metro Creative Connection

With relaxed pandemic restrictions, Canada has opened the economy to business as usual. But what seemed to be a once vibrant pre-pandemic economy is now suffocating from a severe shortage of labour in nearly all sectors, revealing underlying issues that have plagued Canada for decades. It is said that almost 40% of entrepreneurs have difficulty finding workers and skilled labour, a situation worsened because immigration has slowed to a snail's pace.

People have been in lock down for nearly eighteen months. While essential workers carried on as usual in the workplace, a large percentage enjoyed the luxury of working remotely. During that time, many reassessed their work situations, with some using the time to investigate new areas of interest, or acquire online training in the same or a completely different field.

For some, the new pace of life allowed by the pandemic has meant a change in priorities; what's important to people's lives. Some of those workers have decided to spend more time with family by lessening the hours worked outside the home, or altered their work to be able to commute less and work at home more. Some families may now be content living on one salary, an option allowing one parent to stay home and become more involved in their children’s development. These are all valid choices, but the withdrawal of workers from the labour force causes vacuums with wide-reaching effects on the economy.

Throughout the country, there is a shortage of fire fighters and related resources, for example. Fighting fires is not for the faint of heart and those who are trained should be paid well, and have the best resources available. In like manner, those in the transportation industry should not have to compete with robots to keep their jobs. Progress should not come at the expense of making human beings redundant, yet many businesses are replacing humans with robotics to answer the need for workers.

It seems like after a major crisis, Canada experiences a labour shortage. It parallels the teacher shortage of the sixties when school boards recruited teachers from Australia, England and the Caribbean to keep schools from closing. Many teachers didn't return to the classroom after serving their patriotic duty during WWII, creating a vacuum for schools across the land. Immigrant teachers helped stabilize the system for a number of years, during which time education departments focused on an aggressive plan of training home-grown teachers.

More recently, Canada has tried to solve the burgeoning labour shortage in construction, food services, hospitality, manufacturing and other sectors with immigrant workers. But the wheels of government turn slowly, and reports show a backlog of entries waiting to be processed as businesses wait/try to kick-start their economies. A report by the Royal Bank of Canada suggests wage hikes or health benefits might be needed to entice workers.

The Liberal government has offered an affordable day care subsidy of $10 per day /child which, if accepted by the provinces, would free more parents to enter the work force. The food and beverage industry in Ontario has an ad saying “Taste Your Future,” to gain workers. Mary Van Buren, president of the Canadian Construction Association (CCA) says the ability to attract people to the trades is a perennial problem, and the younger generation continues to show sagging interest. So now, the CCA is targeting women, the Indigenous population, and others underrepresented in the trades to consider careers in the field.

Regardless of what other factors are at play, the onus is on businesses to level the playing field by showing respect to all workers. They can aim to provide an atmosphere where workers share a common vision and feel valued. Businesses must also make conscious efforts to alleviate stress in the workplace. Where there are happy, contented, and decently-paid staff, businesses will retain workers and benefit from higher levels of proficiency and profitability.

Etty Cameron is a retired educator and author.