Labour shortage hampering post-pandemic recovery for businesses in Canada, study finds

Labour shortage hampering post-pandemic recovery for businesses in Canada, study finds-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Despite a national unemployment rate above seven per cent, 55 per cent of small and medium-sized businesses in Canada are struggling to hire the workers they need, which is limiting growth, according to a new study by the Business Development Bank of Canada. (Sam Nar/CBC)

It’s almost October, but crews at Romaniuk Heating and Air Conditioning will be installing air conditioners in Edmonton for several more weeks.

The company has a backlog of orders largely because it’s struggled for months to find enough workers as business boomed during the pandemic.

The situation has been so dire, it’s pulling in crews from Ontario to help in Alberta and British Columbia.

“We’ve tripled our crews. We recruit constantly,” said Collin Goodyear, the company’s general manager in Alberta.

“This past week, we’ve probably hired about eight people locally.”

Romaniuk Heating ans Air Conditioning-Milenio Stadium-Canada
A worker with Romaniuk Heating and Air Conditioning installs a new natural gas furnace at a home in northwest Edmonton. The company has a backlog of orders largely because it’s struggled for months to find enough workers as business boomed during the pandemic. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

According to Statistics Canada’s latest job vacancy data, the labour shortage is widespread across the country in several different sectors of the economy — despite a national unemployment rate above seven per cent. The inability to find enough workers is hampering the post-pandemic economic recovery.

In the hospitality industry, for example, food service bosses are trying to tempt back workers who left during the pandemic with profit-sharing, bonuses and health benefits, among other perks.

“There’s been a lack of trust in our industry in terms of us having to open and close so many times in the last 18 to 19 months,” said Ernie Tsu, owner of the Trolley 5 Community Brewpub in Calgary and president of the Alberta Hospitality Association.

“For us to try to get manpower back into the industry, the No. 1 component right now we need from the government is for our industry to stay open,” he said.

Ernie Tsu-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Ernie Tsu, president of the Alberta Hospitality Association, says food service employers are finding it difficult to bring back staff who left during the pandemic and lure new people to join the industry. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

At the Lazy Loaf & Kettle in Calgary, for every 20 interviews that are arranged to fill a position, usually only one or two people will show up.

“At first it was really frustrating. By this point, it’s just expected,” said Matt Proctor, a manager at the café.

‘This is not going to go away’

Fifty-five per cent of small and medium-sized businesses in Canada are struggling to hire the workers they need, which is limiting growth and forcing businesses to delay or refuse new orders, according to results of a study released Wednesday morning by the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), a Crown corporation that assists entrepreneurs.

“It’s everywhere. It’s in every industry and every part of the country. It’s more acute in some parts of the country, like Quebec and B.C.,” Pierre Cléroux, BDC’s chief economist, said in an interview with CBC News.

The study’s key findings include: 64 per cent of entrepreneurs say their growth is limited by a shortage of labour; 61 per cent report that they must boost their hours and/or their employees’ hours; and 44 per cent have delayed or are unable to deliver orders to clients.

The study is based on a survey of 1,251 Canadian entrepreneurs and a survey of 3,000 Canadians about their jobs.

Some business groups have criticized federal pandemic income benefits, such as the Canada recovery benefit (CRB), arguing that while they’ve helped the unemployed, they’ve made the labour market worse by discouraging job hunting.

The labour shortage is much more complex, Cléroux said, considering the country’s aging population and the limited number of immigrants who arrived in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, many businesses were already struggling to find staff before the pandemic was declared in March 2020.

The CRB and other federal pandemic benefits are scheduled to end on Oct. 23.

“This is not going to go away. This is going to stay with us,” Cléroux said about the labour shortage.

The pandemic has jostled the labour market, with about 20 per cent of Canadians who lost their jobs moving into a different sector, he said.

Not everyone is able to find work in their preferred industry or at the wage they’re accustomed to earning.

Kent Cranmer of Calgary worked for a large construction firm for more than three years before he was laid off six months ago.

“I thought that was going to be my retirement job for the rest of my life. Now I don’t really know where I’m going to be,” he said.

In the interim, the 57-year-old continues to drop off resumés and settle for temporary work.

“I’m struggling. I’m really worried about everything,” Cranmer said, including about paying rent on his reduced income.

Higher pay and perks

Businesses are hiking wages and benefit packages to lure new hires, but staffing challenges persist.

“Employers really are struggling. Most of them that are calling us are begging for help,” said Sharlene Massie, the owner of About Staffing, a Calgary-based staffing agency.

For some job hunters, the biggest challenge can be choosing between multiple job offers, she said.

“The labour front is really confusing for everybody. We have a really high unemployment rate, and so we should have a number of candidates that are looking for work and accepting jobs left, right and centre, and there should be few jobs, but that’s not the case at all,” Massie said.

“It’s kind of crazy right now.”

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