Elizabeth Spanjer finally decided to get a licence to drive at the age of 22, and she’s hardly used it in the two years since.
“I’ve looked at what it would cost to own and operate and park a car and it would be impossible at this time. It’s way more than I can afford,” explains Ms. Spanjer, who’s in the second year of a three-year diploma program in business administration and management at Conestoga College, on the outskirts of Kitchener, Ont.
But now a lack of wheels is putting the brakes on her career options.
“I’m finding it difficult finding jobs nearby because there’s a lot of other students in the same situation – without vehicles,” says Ms. Spanjer, who is interested in project management.
There are more potential jobs in Waterloo, but getting there would require a bus commute of about an hour each way from Cambridge. She can’t even consider interviewing at places that aren’t on a bus line. So last summer, she settled for a retail job close to home.
A driving licence and the freedom of the open road is no longer a top priority for young people, who face high housing costs and soaring tuition. A survey by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute this summer found that while 80 per cent of Americans and Canadians between 17 and 19 had a driver’s licence three decades ago, today it’s closer to 60 per cent.
In fact, there’s been a steady decline in licensed drivers in every age group over the past 15 years. In addition to costs, our addiction to online connectivity “reduces the need for actual contact,” researchers Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle theorized.
Small businesses are feeling the pinch as they search for talent, says Ted Mallett, vice-president and chief economist for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
“Smaller businesses cope with the highest average rates of unfilled jobs, so a lack of employee mobility poses greater management challenges to managers of small business,” Mr. Mallett explains.
Employers used to assume that anyone older than 17 had a driver’s licence. Now, small business owners have to inquire about it when they fill jobs that require mobility, Mr. Mallett says.
“Increasingly, we’re seeing clients set up office locations that are close to where the talented employees they want to hire are living,” says Wes Lenci, the Calgary-based vice-president of Canadian operations for furnished office space provider Regus PLC.
Companies with headquarters in suburban locations are inquiring about locations in urban areas to reduce the commute of younger employees who prefer to live downtown. It also works in reverse, with companies setting up satellite offices in the suburbs for those who don’t want to come downtown every day, he says. Locations along subways or train lines are in high demand.
Clients are increasingly asking about facilities for bicycling, too. In Calgary, “we’re seeing customers making bike storage a primary consideration in choosing a location,” Mr. Lenci explains. “They’re asking about security and cost, because some locations are now charging for bike space during the day.”
And it’s not just young employees, either. “We have lots of older workers who park their vehicles for the summer and utilize bike paths in Calgary,” he says.
The problems are most critical in areas outside large urban areas, says Larry Cornies, a professor of journalism at Conestoga College.
“You can avoid having to drive in a place like downtown Toronto, but at Conestoga we’re out at the south end of Kitchener along Highway 401. There’s a bus service on campus, but otherwise it’s out in the boondocks as far as access.”
Students there have turned down internships offered to them at CBC or CTV or the Weather Network in Toronto because they didn’t want to drive there daily from Kitchener. “If they don’t have their own cars, public transit really isn’t an option. It’s just too much of a hassle,” he says.
The growing contingent of non-mobile talent means small business employers in particular will have to be creative in providing alternatives to traditional 9-to-5 work routines, says Gerlinde Herrmann, president of human resources consultancy the Herrmann Group Ltd., in Toronto.
“I have small business clients who have these challenges and they tend to set up ways for employees to work from home or a remote location closer to where they live,” she says. “Increasingly in data-based work and customer service, it’s simple and not that expensive any more to set up infrastructure so people can work remotely.”
That means they don’t have to spend time commuting and they can be more flexible with their hours. Providing that kind of flexibility will attract people who may not have been able to commit to the work before, including people who are semi-retired or on maternity leave, she suggests.
Small businesses that can provide computers and equipment for remote use could have an edge over large employers that might find it more difficult to equip all their staff to work remotely, she adds.
For small businesses in particular, it’s important to build in opportunities to have regular contact with the rest of the staff so they develop a sense of belonging and teamwork, she advises.
“You’ve got to artificially craft water-cooler opportunities: regular sessions of face time that could even be Skype conferences or structured days once a month in which everyone comes in to the office to get to know each other and discuss how their work is going,” Ms. Herrmann says.
“That’s a creative challenge, but increasingly in a gridlocked world where people no longer think it’s practical to sit in a car for hours a day, you have to be creative to attract and hold on to the talent you need.”