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The Canadian economy is in uncharted territory, caught somewhere between a continuing crisis and sluggish recovery. While each industry, sector and business is facing its own unique challenges, data suggest many are struggling to hire and retain talent.

The factors driving the talent shortage range from pandemic-related burnout to increased competition, a pause in immigration and new lifestyle preferences, as well as a continuation of pre-pandemic talent gaps.

According to a recent study conducted by global human resources consulting firm Robert Half, 27 per cent of Canadian workers feel their career has stalled since the start of the pandemic, and 43 per cent are feeling burned out, up from 33 per cent in 2020. The survey found the 28 per cent of staff that experienced a change in sentiment towards their work during the pandemic want to leave their job. At the same time, 49 per cent of employers admit they put promotions on hold during the pandemic and 61 per cent are concerned about increased turnover rates.

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“We’re in an interesting time where people maybe didn’t get a promotion or the salary increase in the last number of months, they’re feeling overworked and burned out, and maybe not feeling recognized,” explains Mike Shekhtman, a regional vice-president with Robert Half Canada.

Expect hybrid work arrangements in the return to the office after COVID-19

Which benefits and perks are here to stay post-pandemic?

Mr. Shekhtman says that since the pandemic began Canadians were often asked to do more with less as a result of budget cuts, layoffs and hiring freezes. During that time, many were afraid to leave their jobs in an uncertain economy, but now that the recovery is under way he expects the coming months will see even higher rates of turnover.

“As the restrictions continue to loosen I think that’s only going to exacerbate the need for even more talent, so the war for talent is going to continuously increase,” he says.

This past year has also dramatically transformed how businesses operate, and a more remote workforce often requires different skills – skills that are not as widely available in the marketplace.

“We live in a more digital age now, but learning specialized skills is always going to be a delayed process. It takes time, and it’s hard for people to take time – if they’re mid-career – to learn new skills,” explains Andrew Agopsowicz, a senior economist with RBC. “The supply of people to fill particular roles can sometimes take a long time to catch up, so I think that’s naturally what we’re going to see in a world with a lot of change.”

Mr. Agopsowicz adds that a slowdown in immigration has further exacerbated the skills gap in many industries. While the reopening of borders will help fill the gap he emphasizes that the country was already struggling with a skills shortage across a range of industries prior to the pandemic.

“Irrespective of the pandemic, we have seen this general trend towards increasing job vacancies and more difficulty for employers to hire people with specific skills,” he says. “It’s not just the tech industry where we’ve seen increases in vacancies and unmet demand, but we’ve also seen it in health care, in construction, so I think with specific skillsets some industries are finding it very difficult to find people to fit their needs.”

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It’s not just niche skills that are in high demand, either. Canadians employers are also struggling to fill roles in those industries hardest hit by the pandemic, such as retail, travel and hospitality.

“Logic would suggest once those businesses [reopen] those skills are available,” says Darlene Minatel, the Canadian country manager for the Manpower Group, a global staffing firm. But she warned that many Canadians have changed their perspective toward their work or their employer in the past year. She says that some will also hesitate to return to frontline positions out of concerns for health and safety, adding that government support programs may have allowed Canadians to delay their return to the workforce.

“We’re not so sure those who were in those markets want to remain there; the ones we spoke to don’t want to be as vulnerable next time, so maybe they’ve considered going back to school, upgrading skills, so we anticipate some [hiring] challenges in that area.”

Furthermore, the pandemic has hit small businesses particularly hard, and some fear the recovery will be more difficult for organizations with fewer resources to compete for talent.

“The need and increased cost of technical talent has skyrocketed. It’s almost impossible to compete as an SMB with the base compensation of other tech giants for example,” says Andrea Bartlett, the HR director for Humi, a human resources software provider for small and medium-sized businesses.

According to Ms. Bartlett, demand for the company’s platform has increased 80 per cent since the start of the pandemic, suggesting that small and medium-sized businesses are growing concerned over their talent needs.

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Specifically, she says small businesses have demonstrated greater interest in increasing their performance management, recruiting, and employee engagement capabilities since the start of the pandemic. “Small to mid sized businesses who maybe didn’t have to invest in it before the pandemic need to invest in a recruiting solution because it’s become more competitive.”

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