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Tareq Hadhad, founder of Peace by Chocolate, in front of his chocolate factory in Antigonish, N.S.

Darren Calabrese/The Globe and Mail

It’s harder than ever for small business owners to find the right workers. The Battle for Talent series looks at hiring difficulties in several sectors and offers solutions.

In the two years that Tareq Hadhad has built Peace by Chocolate into a thriving business in Nova Scotia, his company faces a continuing struggle to find good workers to make his sweet treats.

Who wouldn’t want to work in a chocolate factory? Surprisingly, perhaps, not everyone has the desire or skill to be a real-life Oompa Loompa, Mr. Hahdad explains.

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“Since we opened in Canada in August 2016, we’ve been challenged to find people to work in our factory. It’s a special type of production. It’s not something that requires a lot of experience, but it does take a lot of determination and perseverance, as all manufacturing does,” he says.

Arriving as a refugee from Syria, Mr. Hadhad chose Antigonish, N.S., with about 4,300 people, to locate his company. Rather, he relocated it after his original family business was bombed to bits in the war in his homeland.

“Setting up in a small place [in Canada] was a point of honour for us. We wanted to give back,” he says. Locating in a town where he could offer good jobs to local people was one way to contribute, in Mr. Hadhad’s view.

In two years the company has grown to 35 employees, a bit more than half producing the chocolate and the rest in administration and marketing.

“One of the hardest things is to find people for production jobs. It’s a struggle to find the right candidates,” Mr. Hadhad says. It doesn’t please him that, “it’s one of the factors that forces factories to move to automation.”

Robots are not really an option in his factory. “The human touch is a point of pride when you have a beautiful product that you want to shine in the hands of customers,” Mr. Hadhad says.

Peace by Chocolate is hardly alone in trying to cope with what experts expect to be a growing shortage of skilled workers as Canada’s population ages. In the last federal census, seniors outnumbered those under age 15 for the first time across the country.

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It’s perhaps ironic that while long-term predictions are for fewer manufacturing jobs because of artificial intelligence, for the foreseeable future there will be lots of manufacturers looking for people who want to work.

In September, Pierre Cléroux, chief economist for the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), warned that Canada’s small and mid-sized businesses will need to adapt to a “new norm” where it’s hard to find workers, and that this shortage will last for a decade.

The BDC surveyed 1,208 people from small- and medium-sized businesses, with at least $500,000 in yearly sales. The survey found that, like Mr. Haddad, 39 per cent of these businesses have been having difficulties finding the right workers for the jobs they need to fill.

“We have people who tell us that 80 per cent of the people who they book job interviews with don’t show up,” says Erika Mozes, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Hyr, an app that lets restaurants hire temporary and shift workers.

It’s not at all due to laziness, she says. “The labour market is so tight right now that it’s probably because they got another job down the street."

The tight labour market is toughest on small and mid-sized businesses make up about half the Canadian economy, Mr. Cléroux told The Canadian Press, noting that “they are very important in smaller communities.”

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The worker shortage that Mr. Haddad and others face is partly because the economy is strong, but that is not the only reason, Mr. Cléroux said.

“A lot of people think this is only temporary. Unfortunately this is not the case and it’s important to understand that. [Businesses] have to change the way they manage their human resources.”

Mr. Hadhad says this is already clear to him at Peace by Chocolate. One way he has adjusted is to recruit further afield than Antigonish, advertising in Halifax and other larger centres and emphasizing the attractions a small town has to offer for some people.

Another adjustment is to alter the manufacturing flow.

“We are a seasonal business,” he says, which makes sense to those of us who indulge in fine chocolates mostly at Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter and Halloween.

“But our plan going forward is to have a more consistent flow of production throughout the year, so we can have workers who are happy to work with us in long-term, permanent jobs. No one wants to work for three or six months; everyone looks for stability.”

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Mr. Hadhad says it’s just as important to work on retaining workers as it is to recruit them. He stresses teamwork and Peace by Chocolate’s message – chocolate can spread peace.

“Our workers work with chocolate and they get passionate about their jobs. We want to work with people who believe in us and our message.”

Mr. Hadhad says he recruits people by maintaining strong relationships with local job centres and by using online sites such as indeed.ca.

“We advertise everywhere, and we use our social media platforms. We have 50,000 followers on all our platforms combined,” he says.

While it’s a challenge, it doesn’t really bother Mr. Hadhad that it can be hard to fill jobs. He loves the potential he sees for Canada, and besides, who can complain when their office is full of chocolate?

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