Many have all been blaming the labour shortage on the pandemic, some saying that “no one wants to work anymore” and complaining that CERB and other government supports have made workers lazy. However, statistics show that labour force growth was slowing long before we were hit with COVID-19; between retiring Baby Boomers and young workers taking longer to complete their post-secondary education, there are more vacancies than candidates to fill them. This has actually been the case for the last 20 years. The pandemic was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey shows that retirements are expected to remain high until at least 2026, so employers need to give up the idea that the labour shortage is a short-term problem that will disappear when COVID ends. Overall, 55% of Canadian employers are struggling to hire workers. The manufacturing sector has been particularly hard hit, with Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters estimating 65,000 job vacancies across the country.
So how can employers, and more specifically manufacturers, adapt?
One of the most impactful changes that manufacturers can make is increasing automation. The Business Development Bank of Canada’s How to Adapt to the Labour Shortage Situation report for BDC pointed out that 53% of manufacturing businesses with new technology and automation found it easy to hire employees. In comparison, only 25% of manufacturing companies without new tech and automation found it easy. Of course, integrating automation is no small feat.
The report indicates that the high upfront cost is the biggest roadblock for SMEs that have automated their processes. When a business has been dealing with the difficulties of the labour shortage for years, reducing their capacity for growth (64%) and facing order delays (44%), it can be hard to earmark a hefty sum for new technology. But if you don’t have the staff, you can’t complete the work. So if you can’t get the people, you need technology. Once you have the machines, it will be easier to hire more people, meaning you can take on more projects. The report states that companies that integrate automation are almost twice as likely to see sales growth above the industry average than companies that have not automated.
It’s all circular.
Investing in the right technology is an investment in your team. For employers who’ve faced difficulty with hiring, 61% have had to increase their employees’ hours – leading to burnout – and 49% have needed to increase wages and benefits to help with retention. As Gen Z leaves trade school and enters the workforce, they’re going to know how to operate this kind of technology and look for a job where they can put these skills to good use. Unsurprisingly, most prefer skilled work to manual labour.
The idea that robots make workers redundant is outdated. Let the robots do the heavy lifting to you can hire skilled, hard-working tradespeople and give them a job that they will enjoy long-term.