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This is the weekly Careers newsletter.

Radhika Panjwani is a former journalist from Toronto and a blogger.

As Canadian employers struggle to find temporary workers, experts say they must take a long-term strategic approach to remain competitive in a shrinking labour market. At the same time, they warn that the country’s labour-market policies need an overhaul given the shift in demographic trends.

Canada’s temporary labour force helps fill seasonal jobs in sectors such as retail and food service, which typically spike during the holidays. At the same time, it helps fulfill the needs of a wide array of industries – such as agriculture, meat-packaging and fisheries – throughout the year. Companies have an opportunity to leverage some of those positions to fill longer-term gaps in their workforces.

“Seasonal jobs should not be treated as short-term positions as there’s a possibility many workers will return to a full-time position if they feel satisfied with the overall company and the job,” said Kiljon Shukullari, a human resources consultant with Peninsula Canada, an HR and health and safety services organization. “Make seasonal hiring a part of your overall plan to grow your work force with well-trained and skilled staff.”

The shortage of workers is expected to continue, but employers should be creative with wage and compensation benefits, have a comprehensive onboarding process, provide feedback and reward good work, Mr. Shukullari said. Employers should also offer detailed work contracts to assure employees their rights will be protected and that there is a process in place to resolve disputes if they arise.

Atlantic Canada’s seasonal woes

Although HR policies may be a good first step, critics argue Canada’s persistent temporary workers shortage needs a more nuanced approach and cannot be solved by a mishmash of government policies.

In several comprehensive reports he helped author, David Chaundy, an economist and chief executive officer of Atlantic Provinces Economic Council (APEC), said the region is facing a growing seasonal labour crisis because of an aging population. Employment insurance (EI) programs are making the problem worse, he said.

One report, Meeting Atlantic Canada’s Labour Skills Challenge Post COVID-19, notes that labour shortages remain the primary concern for many businesses in the region. At APEC’s recent conference, 44 per cent of employers cited finding workers as their main concern heading into 2023.

In the seafood processing industry, which typically hires low-wage seasonal workers who depend on EI during the off-season, the number of job vacancies in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick averaged more than 1,700 in the first half of 2022, almost double the level in the same period in 2017. APEC estimates that by 2030 there will be about 7,500 available positions.

Employment insurance programs in Atlantic Canada are exacerbating the issue because the rules encourage people to stay in seasonal positions even though there are full-time jobs available, says the report.

Each year, the number of employed people in Atlantic Canada falls by almost 60,0000 between August and December. Meanwhile, EI claims during that period spike by more than 20,000. This seasonal disparity appears to be out of whack with employment patterns in the rest of Canada.

The report calls for major changes to the EI program. It also asks policy-makers to carefully examine and review the role of temporary foreign workers and ensure the program actually meets the needs of seasonal labour. Other suggestions include incentivizing automation in the seafood manufacturing sector and introducing research partnerships between companies, postsecondary institutions, and federal government research labs.

Foreign workers program: A fix or farce?

The Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFW) allows Canadian employers to hire foreign workers to fill temporary jobs when qualified Canadians are not available.

A Globe and Mail story noted that in 2021 more than 775,000 individuals received temporary work permits, an increase of 92 per cent from 2015, and 600 per cent from 2000.

The TFW program accounted for some 82,000 permits while the remaining are from Canada’s International Mobility Program, which allows employers to hire foreign workers without a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA).

In April, 2022, Ottawa announced changes to the TFW program whereby employers in sectors with chronic labour shortages, including hospitals, construction, transportation, accommodation and food services, and recreation and tourism could hire up to 30 per cent of their work force through the program.

In a column published in Policy Options headlined “The economic case against low-wage temporary workers,” economists Fabian Lange, Mikal Skuterud, and Christopher Worswick write that Ottawa’s reforms to the TFW will jeopardize real wage growth and lead to increased income inequality. They caution increasing low-skilled immigration will result in decreasing average living standards for all workers.

The TFW program, which woos workers with a pathway to permanent residency status, is myopic, the economists write, because workers who become permanent residents are just as likely as other Canadians to spurn low wages and unattractive working conditions. That leads to a cyclical and unceasing pressure to bring in more workers from overseas, the column says.

The solution, they say, is not to terminate the TFW abruptly, but instead consider a “cap and trade” program.

Under such a program, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada would provide a fixed number of permits in response to current labour market demand, but gradually ease the number of permits issued in subsequent years. In this system, employers can trade unused permits to others willing to pay a higher price. The “cap” safeguards the number of permits issued, while the market for TFW determines the competitive market price for permits.

Cap-and-trade will improve the economic efficiency of the system as well as the wages and working conditions of Canada’s lowest-wage workers, the authors say.

“For economists, labour shortages are an opportunity to be embraced,” the column states. “Competition for scarce workers forces employers to use existing workers more efficiently, by, for example, offering longer hours for those willing, introducing new technologies that may be complementary to the tasks of workers, and investing in employee training, thereby raising skills and labour productivity.”

What I’m reading around the web

  • According to this story in Canary Media, United Airlines announced it was investing in sodium-ion battery maker Natron Energy, whose technology could be used to electrify forklifts and pushback tractors as well as store large amounts of renewable energy on-site. This on-site energy could one day be used to recharge the batteries in electric passenger jets or flying taxis.
  • For a New Year’s resolution, you might want to consider Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban’s advice – reading. Mr. Cuban details why and how reading helps those over 30 in this story on CNBC.
  • This story on BBC looks at how Gen Z workers are eager to have their voices heard in matters to do with wages and innovation, but their older managers expect younger workers to “pay their dues” first before speaking their minds.

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