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Goodbye baby boomers, hello baby bust


Top Seven Tips For a Tight Labour Market

Chronic labour shortages have become the norm across Canada, with little relief in sight. The two biggest culprits? Aging baby boomers - and a birth rate too low to maintain our current population. The result is a workplace vacuum with suction at both ends. While the problem has no quick-fix solution, you can make repairs to help stem the flow.

“You really need to look at a variety of options and develop a strategy that makes sense for your organization,” advises MNP human resource practice leader Merrill Brinton. Merrill offers practical suggestions to help you get started.

Top Seven Tips for a Tight Labour Market

1. Keep baby boomers involved. According to Statistics Canada, 2006 saw a record number of 60 to 64 year-olds (45 per cent) in the labour force. The increase reflects a wide range of factors, from Canadians seeking extra income to a desire to stay active.

“By amending or eliminating our mandatory retirement age, organizations can tap into baby boomers who’ve been with the company a long time and have an in-depth knowledge of that organization,” explains Merrill.

Keeping older workers on a part-time basis, giving them less physical and/or less demanding roles, offering them contract work, or hiring them as consultants are all potential ways to help alleviate the shortage of workers.

2. Remember to ask “why?” Another key strategy is to take a close look at what your company is good at - and what makes you profitable.

“In asking why something is done, you may discover there’s no sound reason for it and the process has become redundant or outdated,” says Merrill. Hiring an objective third party to assess your existing processes can make it easier to determine which changes should be made.

Merrill says you may also discover certain tasks can be completed faster with the right technology. Do you have a time-consuming, manual process that could be automated? Are there more efficient ways of doing something? Would updating your hardware, software or machinery requirements allow streamlining or eliminate unnecessary positions?

“It isn’t good enough anymore to say, ‘that’s our policy’ or ‘we’ve always done it this way,’” asserts Merrill. Customers no longer accept this answer, and neither should employees. Getting rid of redundant processes can eliminate unnecessary positions or free up time for employees to pursue more profitable initiatives.

3. Explore outsourcing and partnership opportunities. If your organization isn’t large enough to support human resources, marketing, IT, and other non-core departments, consider outsourcing those tasks. If you don’t need a specialist at all times, you may be better off hiring contractors as needed. Another benefit is that because of their expertise, specialists are usually aware of best practices.

Partnering with other companies to share specialists is another alternative. For example, four or five small companies may pool their resources to share an IT expert.

4. Consider cross-training. According to Human Resources and Social Development Canada, approximately two-thirds of job openings over the next ten years will be in occupations requiring post-secondary education. Given the current shortage, there may not be enough labour to fill demand.

Merrill offers this advice to address the challenge: “If you can’t fill positions by searching outside the company, you may want to recruit and train internally.” Rotating high-potential employees in a variety of roles and training them in the skills you need can make them more valuable workers - and strengthen your retention efforts.

Employees with multiple specialties can fill in when other workers are unavailable. Training can also help employees feel more valued, as they recognize their employers are willing to invest in their development.

“Assets and equipment for running businesses are put through regular maintenance. Why not our people? They’re really our most valuable assets,” asserts Merrill.

He adds that cross-trained employees usually stay with their companies longer and can be strong candidates for leadership positions.

5. Identify benefits that can set you apart. In today’s labour market, offering a competitive salary is critical. Yet to really stand out, you need to look at benefits you’re already offering - and find creative ways to stand out. For example, given the growing number of people caring for aging parents, you may want to offer an option like eldercare.

Personal days and flexible work hours are also important. “If someone asks for an extra day off, I say give it to them. Would you rather lose a good employee for a day or two or forever?” says Merrill.

Offering flexible work schedules may be important to parents with children, as they may need to start later in the day to drop their kids off at school.

Creative bonus structures based on performance and accountability can help improve retention and productivity as well. Bonuses may be based on individual, team and/or the organization’s effort, with results weighted to account for the level of the employee and ability to influence outcomes.

6. Promote a creative work environment. Technology has opened up many new options when it comes to transforming the traditional work environment.

Instead of requiring all your staff to be physically in the office, you may give them the option to telecommute one or more days a week. This can be particularly attractive to team members who live in large urban areas, reside a considerable distance from the office, or want to work from home for family reasons.

Another option is to hire students or interns for the summer and allow them to continue working part-time when they return to school. This can be an effective recruitment tool, as you can test someone’s skills before deciding to hire them full-time. They, in turn, have an opportunity to experience your management style and culture.

7. Brand yourself. Branding isn’t just for products; it’s important to the entire organization. “People want to contribute meaningful work and believe in the company they work for,” explains Merrill, adding, “Your brand, culture and vision are interrelated and can impact your ability to hire quality candidates.”

To define your organization’s brand, start by asking yourself key questions, such as: Why would someone want to work for us? Do we have a reputation for being the best in our field? Does our company have an attractive culture?

If you don’t know what’s important in a brand or what your employees value, Merrill suggests having team members complete an employee satisfaction survey (this should be conducted by an external resource to ensure confidentiality).

Branding is particularly important when hiring young people because of their prolific use of communication tools. Social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace allow younger generations to communicate quickly. “You can’t afford to have a bad reputation among young workers; they’ll tell everyone,” warns Merrill.

The Road Ahead

Looking forward, Merrill admits that while there’s no easy solution to the labour shortage, the smartest thing you can do is to start preparing now. “It’s like saving for your retirement; start early and save often.”

By Merrill Brinton, Human Resource Practice Leader and President of the Canadian Council of Human Resources Associations. For more information, contactat Merrill at 1.877.500.0780 or your local MNP advisor.