Halifax Chamber of Commerce
Brian Rose sees a crisis coming. Nova Scotia is in what Rose, VP of membership of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, would call a people crisis. Actually, it’s more like a lack of people crisis.
“We need to get cracking on this because the critical numbers are getting closer all the time to that point when the jobs we have available are going unfilled because the people we need to fill them are not there,” Rose says. “We’re going to start to hurt.”
“The Conference Board of Canada pointed out this impending problem for all Canadians in 2001 saying that step one to addressing this problem was recognizing the issue. It’s nearly 10 years later and we are saying the same thing with little progress.”
To combat this crisis, Rose and the Chamber of Commerce are developing a ‘people strategy’ or action plan that they will roll out starting in fall 2009. It will consist of three parts: recommended actions for the government, actions that the Chamber is volunteering to take, and concrete recommendations for what business owners can do to overcome the three pronged problem of shrinking workforces, a changing economy and a new workforce dynamic.
“Ultimately this is 100 per cent a business issue,” Rose says. “Organizations, enterprises, and businesses, and particularly small and medium sized businesses, are going to feel the crunch of a labour shortage. There are ways of getting around it but we’ve got to get on top of it now.”
“We cannot always expect government to look after this issue. In fact, it’s virtually impossible for them; we each need to face it at the level we work at.”
These recommendations will focus on the right training and education to better match the worker to the job, and make use of under-utilized workers such as seniors, young workers, or minority workers.
“We have the solution to our problem in our hands,” Rose says, though he points out the difficulties in adapting to the needs of the workers, as well as the need for workers to adapt to the work. “That’s going to bring a whole lot of change to the workforce and to the people who are supervising these folks, and they have to adapt to it as well.”
Businesses are going to need to be creative in making those adaptations, Rose says. It’s not always about money. He uses a recent example to illustrate his point.
“When gasoline hit its highest peak, we started getting calls from businesses in Burnside. They were having problems transporting their workers, who previously would have driven from Spryfield, for example, to work in Burnside. The cost of that drive had almost doubled in the course of a year and a half, and they were saying ‘I simply can’t afford it. It doesn’t make any sense now for me to drive and there’s not enough transit.’”
Rose, whose own offices are in the Burnside area, says that the Chamber of Commerce developed a creative solution to the problem.
“When gasoline hits that high, and it will again, we are completely set up so that everybody can work from home. We did work from home one or two days a week, and we started giving out free bus tickets to everyone. Rather than drive your car, take the bus if you can.”
This is the way that businesses are going to have to think going forward, Rose says.
“For me, the ultimate thing that we can do with this strategy is to provide business people with a tool kit,” he says. “Something that can give them simple, straightforward answers.”
It’s that much more important for the small and medium-sized businesses that make up the bulk of Chamber members. Large businesses have the time and resources to develop these strategies on their own, but Rose sees his work being useful to the business owners and managers who may not even realize yet that there is a problem.
“This type of labour market information is kind of hard to come by,” he says. “Somebody in Canso who’s having a hard time filling a job for a butcher isn’t going to compare notes with somebody in Lawrencetown who’s having a hard time finding somebody to be their family doctor. They won’t say, “Hey, did you notice that we’re all collectively having a problem?”
“It doesn’t take much to start that spiral of companies saying, ‘I’m unable to fill key positions here because I can’t find the right people with the right skill sets, therefore it’s not viable for me to maintain this business here. I’m going to have to go where I can find those people.’ And Nova Scotia, with a declining population, is that much more behind the 8-ball.”
Rose is eager to get started at turning this crisis into a positive selling point for the province. He believes that the key to attracting and retaining the right people in Nova Scotia is already within our grasp.
“You can throw money at things all you want, but you have to go with your strong suit,” he says. “Our strong suit is the people that we have, the community that we’ve built, and the natural beauty of what’s around us.”
“If education, workplace training and lifelong learning are the magic bullet to make the best of what we have, then bring it on. There is no time to waste.”
If he can just get the people strategy into place, Rose hopes that the Nova Scotian business community will emerge stronger than ever.