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The ripple effect

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CKCA by Sandra Wood
CMP, Executive Director, CKCA
Every time I get news these days, there’s more data that shows the ripple effect of the labour shortage in Canada. While we’ve been feeling this in our industry for some time, other industries previously shut down or severely slowed by COVID are now coming back online only to see their pool of workers has diminished as well.
Just take a look at the tourism and hospitality industry, including travel and even restaurants, all hard hit. We are hearing about lineups at airports due to shortages of security and ground crews. We are seeing restaurants closed or working at half capacity.
Every industry is realizing that an influx of skilled immigrant workers could help, but since we’re all asking for that, it means competition. The government plans to “go shopping” and has created provisions in the 2022 budget that gives Minister of Immigration Sean Fraser the power to prioritize or target certain jobs or skills that are deemed most needed. While perhaps well intended, the flaw with this is that unless you have the capacity to get government’s attention, how will they ever know the level of struggle your particular sector is feeling?
Will the wish list of most needed become driven by political agendas and who has the most money to get governments attention? I have heard from our industry that when it comes to wood manufacturing, most people don’t even think about it and certainly not government. Instead, automotive and other larger sectors get the attention. This is understandable given those sectors employ so many more than we do. But that doesn’t mean we are any less important or vital to Canadians. While we know that as government pushes for more housing that means more kitchens so how can the government meet its housing targets without us? But if you speak to the wood pallet industry, they’ll tell you that every bottle of medicine gets shipped in on a pallet. Every sector has a compelling reason to be here, we’re all important.
So while governments, agencies and associations work to change policy and address these issues, the bottom line is that your business is suffering the ripple effect of these changes now. The shift is not just a Canadian problem, it’s global and there is no quick easy fix. Even Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said that Canada was “better off compared to other countries.” That may be so, but for those trying to run businesses with less staff, that’s no consolation.
So here we are in this new norm with a reality that finding workers is getting harder. What can you do? Many are looking at innovative ways to recruit, but perhaps employee retention needs another look. Recruiting is no easy process these days, if you can it’s better to retain what you have and try to adapt processes knowing that you have to function with less staff resources.
Recently I saw a video of a shipping area within a company that was struggling to get plastic cover over the top of a pallet loaded with materials. While this may 
not seem like a big deal, it was to the four employees who had to do this every 
day and be continually frustrated by the process. They were going through plastic because it kept breaking, plus it was physical to do. Company management was aware of the problem, but once they realized they had four frustrated employees, they realized they needed to do something.
They got the group together and brainstormed. Employees were made comfortable to air their concerns and empowered to suggest ways to fix the problem. Together they finally found a solution that was less physical, more efficient, reduced waste and most importantly, lowered employees’ frustration. The other bonus was improved productivity with fewer employees needed to complete the task allowing the company to reassign employees to different 
parts of the business. What 
a win-win!
The ripple effect from taking the time to fix this one small part of their business operation will be felt for a long time. The company was allowing a situation to occur that would put them at risk of losing four employees in a market where finding their replacements would be extremely difficult. They’ve worked the problem through and instead they have four employees engaged with 
the company.
While some would say technology or new machinery would solve the problem, which is true in some instances. But sometimes a solution is easier than that and is just about carving out the time and creating an environment where your employees are comfortable telling you what frustrates them and them empowering them to help you find the solution. You reward them and your business by applying that solution.  
Business decisions have ripple effects that can be felt far and wide. Are there small things you can do 
in your business that can bring winning changes? 
In a climate where we have such a shortage of labour that is ongoing for the foreseeable future, the payoff for making even 
the smallest change 
can be much bigger than you think. n

CKCA National Forum 2022
Waterloo, Ontario
September 29-
October 1, 2022
Registration opens in July

This will be our first face-to-face event in more than two years. Hope to see you there!

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