How to Attract, Retain and Train Workers for the Future Economy
Listen to the extended interview:
- Employers must look at the quality of the kind of jobs they are offering and strategize on how to provide better benefits in order to attract new workers.
- The increase in technology adoption at the workplace will permanently change how workplaces function and we will need to ensure workers do not get left behind.
- Collaboration between all stakeholders in the labour conversation is needed to ensure realistic solutions are enacted for workers.
Governments, employers, unions and academic institutions must work together to identify the skills needed for the future of work and continue collaborating to undertake the attraction, retention and training of workers.
What will the future of work look like in Canada and what should workers and employers expect from the workplace nowadays?
As we have been working our way through this pandemic, what has become really apparent to me is that the amount of technology we are using in different workplaces has increased exponentially. This has been driven by our need to pivot to address issues that arose during the pandemic. Workers have had to significantly change how they work and where they work. We are seeing more remote work or hybrid types of work. Workers in different industries have had to get used to different processes and society has had to address how we do everything from buying groceries to getting medications and appointments. These changes are only going to continue happening over the years.
During this period of change, we must ensure that we are not leaving workers behind, by making sure that their skillsets match the needs of our workplaces and communities.
“Employers, educational institutions and unions must work together to address the needs of workers to acquire the right skills.”
Workers will have a lifetime of learning ahead of them because as technology and our needs change, workers also have to be continuously upgrading their skills. That means employers, educational institutions and unions must work together to address the needs of workers to acquire the right skills and make sure that we can fill those skills gaps. There should be initiatives that allow students to work while getting the educational upgrades they need to stay current in their particular field.
More importantly, we must ensure that workers who are currently working also have the ability to take on reskilling if they need to while still maintaining their employment. This is a task that has to include all stakeholders and may also require government funds, especially as we are looking to make a Just Transition to a net-zero economy. All the participants in this conversation must come together to have all their voices heard around the table. Only working within one particular structure without talking to anyone else will not result in the best outcomes.
What is behind the labour shortage and what do we have to focus on to resolve it?
There are more baby boomers retiring than we have young workers coming in to take their place. As such, we must all think about how we can attract more workers. It is not enough to just have demographic-specific solutions. We must also find employment strategies to support workers who are newcomers to Canada, who are living with a disability, who are older and need reskilling or who are Indigenous youth looking for jobs. We need to open up our perspectives to make sure we have avenues for full employment for everyone who is able to and wants to work.
A lot of times, those kinds of opportunities are lacking. Governments, employers and unions must work together to come up with a solution to bring on new workers from overlooked communities. We should look at how to tailor strategies for particular communities and sectors of the economy. How do we speak to these folks and make sure their voices are heard and needs met? This is the first thing we need to do to broaden our employment opportunities.
One of the things we have to recognize is that employers are having a hard time recruiting and retaining staff. That begs the question of what kind of jobs employers are recruiting for. Is it precarious work? Is it gig work? Does it have defined hours, or is it all over the map and causing poor work-life balance? We must also recognise that many workers have more than one job and so we need to have things like predictive scheduling, especially for part-time workers. We need to talk about the wages and benefits we are offering, as well as what the workplace looks like at our particular workplace. Is there access to personal protective equipment (PPE)? Is there access to training and advancement opportunities?
If they wish to recruit and retain employees, employers must look at the quality of jobs they are offering. These jobs need to pass the test of what employees are looking for. With an aging population, there are fewer new workers entering the workforce and so employers need to be more competitive in terms of what they are hoping to attract. Most workers want to see a pathway to a job that helps sustain their family but also provides opportunities to grow. They want lifelong learning, opportunities for skills building and advancement within their workplace.
“Many of the jobs in the care economy are undervalued and underpaid.”
The other reality is that one in five workers in Canada works in the care economy as doctors, nurses, healthcare aides, professional technical healthcare workers and people working with housing, long-term care and more. Many of the jobs in the care economy are undervalued and underpaid. We need to have significant investments in the care economy because as our population continues to age, we will need more people for these kinds of jobs. When governments invest in long-term care, it gives the worker more ability to spend quality time with their resident and thus results in better outcomes for the individuals who need that care.
What kind of sectors in the Canadian economy hold the most promise for creating high-quality jobs and what kind of support will they need for the skilling of their workers?
There is an increase in automation and so that translates to labour-saving opportunities. Workers at the entry-level will need significant skills upgrading to keep pace with the type of technology we will be using in the economic sectors of the future, whether that is in manufacturing or other kinds of tech jobs, especially as we move further away from fossil fuels. This transition will require new jobs and so we need pockets of communities that can pivot successfully to these good, sustainable jobs.
“Governments, employers, unions and community members must work together to identify skills needs for emerging sectors.”
Unions, government, employers and community members themselves need to be at the table to determine what that transition will look like. Unions like the Canadian Labour Congress are looking for Just Transition legislation to address these issues over the coming months and bring all parties together to come up with solutions. This will require some investment as well as an all-hands-on-deck approach. Governments, employers, unions and community members must work together to identify skills needs for emerging sectors. We need a vision for the long-term for these workers and their communities.
Much more artificial intelligence (AI) is coming into play when we look at workforce issues and so we must rethink how we are doing our work and make sure workers are not being left behind in our move to automate and use AI in every aspect of our lives.
What are the policies within Just Transition legislation that you want to see and what impact will they have on our future economy?
Our government is looking at a net-zero transition by 2030 for many sectors throughout the country. There are still workers working in a coal-fired power plant and there is going to be a significant shift from the way they are doing their work currently.
“It cannot just be the employer and government talking about the clean energy transition – we must have community and worker input.”
The labour movement needs to make commitments to having workers at the table to discuss what their future is going to look like. We need to talk about how to ensure those communities have good investments to create new jobs and what those new jobs will look like. It cannot just be the employer and government talking about the clean energy transition – we must have community and worker input. How is retraining going to be developed? Is that retraining going to happen while those workers are still transitioning out of those jobs or will it happen only after those old jobs are gone? The first way is the better way to go. Retraining workers for the clean economy has to happen earlier so there will not be a break in earnings for workers.
There is also the minutiae of how to get there. What comes first? Should the announcement of a plant shutting down come first or should we already have a plan in place on how we are going to pivot? There is a lot of fear and anxiety surrounding these kinds of changes and the sooner we can have these conversations and come up with robust strategies, the better. This requires the provinces and the federal government to be on board and on the same page as everyone else. The same goes for employers and unions.