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A Canadian Federation of Independent Business report for the second quarter of 2018 found almost 400,000 private-sector jobs left unfilled for at least four months across Canada.

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Many employers looking to hire recently have come to a sobering realization: It’s a “candidate’s market.”

“In the last three to six months, the job market has been as hot as it has been in some time,” says Rowan O’Grady, president of Hays Canada, which recruits for IT, finance and accounting and professional roles. “Our clients are telling us they’re having more and more difficulty finding skilled candidates. And the more skilled you get, the more extreme the shortage.”

A study released in September by the Business Development Bank of Canada found 39 per cent of SMEs have difficulty finding new employees and a Canadian Federation of Independent Business report for the second quarter of 2018 found almost 400,000 private-sector jobs left unfilled for at least four months across Canada.

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Although many companies believe upping salary and benefits is the key to attracting more and better employees, “there’s an awful lot companies can do to improve their hiring success rate that has nothing to do with that,” Mr. O’Grady says. Here are some creative ways that business owners are using to bring in much-needed talent into their workplaces.

Being proactive

For Sara Hodson, a lack of viable job candidates was an obstacle for growth at her fast-growing group of exercise clinics, Live Well Exercise Clinic (Franchise) Inc. “When you grow tenfold in a year, your applicant lead flow has to grow tenfold too,” says the Vancouver-based company’s president and founder. “And it wasn’t.”

To help bring in more candidates, Ms. Hodson began selling Live Well more aggressively to potential job candidates, instead of waiting passively to be found. That meant reaching out via university and college job fairs and job websites such as Indeed where millennials (Live Well’s target employee demographic) hang out. The company also boosted its presence on Facebook and Instagram.

Elisabeth Bottomley, marketing and recruitment manager for The Distillery Restaurants Corp., takes a similar approach. She uses paid social media ads on Facebook and Instagram to target potential employees by location (near the restaurants), age, educational background (culinary school) and interests (foodies). She also gives a monetary incentive for employees who refer new recruits.“Previously the hospitality industry was able to throw up an ad on Craigslist and watch applications roll in,” she says. “But that’s not enough now.”

Compressing the hiring process

For home-grown tech companies, recruiting scarce software/engineering talent can be a daunting process. Not only do they have to compete with “the razzle-dazzle of Silicon Valley,” says Ashira Gobrin, senior vice-president, people and culture for Toronto-based Wave Financial Inc., they have to go head-to-head with a growing roster of tech companies and international giants (such as Google) here at home.

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Some tech companies go the “hire fast, fire fast” route; basically hiring on gut feel and firing within the first three months if the candidate doesn’t rise to the occasion. But Ms. Gobrin leans toward hiring fast – but thoroughly.

Wave begins the recruitment process for tech talent by sending out a video and code challenge that applicants can complete on their own time. Candidates who score well come in for a single, intensive four-hour interview (rather than a series of interviews over several weeks). Wave uses a hiring matrix – an interview score card meant to take some of the subjectivity out of the hiring process by quantifying things such as technical skills and strategic thinking, among other things. If they’re a good fit for the position, a job offer generally goes out within 24 to 48 hours.

Ms. Gobrin’s logic? A lengthy recruitment process can leave crucial roles unfilled longer and cause you to miss out on good applicants. “High-calibre people are in demand,” she says. “They almost always have other companies knocking at their door.”

Separate your must-haves from your wish list

“We always challenge our clients to define the role they need to fill and choose three absolutely essential things that the candidate must have,” Mr. O’Grady says.

Ms. Bottomley used that approach when a new restaurant, Madrina Bar Y Tapas, opened this summer amidst a shortage of skilled labour. “We faced a challenge finding an opening team,” she says. So the restaurant curated a group of students from nearby George Brown Culinary College. “They were relatively green,” Ms. Bottomley says. “It wasn’t the labour pool you hope will be available when you’re opening a new restaurant.”

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On the plus side, the new team was excited at the prospect of working with Catalonian chef and tapas specialist, Ramón Simarro. “They were motivated to learn and they had the right attitude,” Ms. Bottomley says. The upshot: “It has been very successful. And our retention level has been good.”

Eliminate roadblocks for applicants

When it came to attracting certified exercise physiologists (CEPs) for its clinics, Live Well took a hands-on role. The certification requires a kinesiology degree followed by 500 to 1,200 hours of clinical experience, usually in hospitals or clinics. But many kinesiology grads are not aware of the designation, and others can’t accumulate the number of clinical hours needed to become certified, so applicants were scarce.

As a result, Live Well designed its own bridging program. Kinesiology grads in the company’s employ can complete a 40-hour clinical knowledge course to become a “CEP candidate.” That entitles them to an increase in pay. But more importantly, they’re able to begin chalking up clinical hours with patients exhibiting chronic health conditions (such as COPD and hypertension) enabling them to work toward certification. The result, Ms. Hodson says, “For every one lead that we could consider for the position six months ago, we now have three to four."

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