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Canada’s workforce is shrinking. According to Statistics Canada, the share of the population who are either working or looking for work has been declining over the past decade. As more baby boomers enter retirement, this trend is expected to continue.

As the country’s fourth largest private-sector employer, the restaurant industry is already facing the ramifications of this reality on a massive scale. In the last five years alone, the number of unfilled positions in the food-service sector has risen from roughly 52,000 to nearly 60,000 and is projected to keep climbing.

Unprecedented labour shortages are certainly creating a moment of crisis for Canada’s restaurants, but we can also look at this moment as an opportunity – a chance to put an end to the perception that working in food service is a temporary job, when so many of us have built life-long careers in this industry.

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Restaurants Canada will be bringing together some of our industry’s most innovative leaders to discuss how they’re rising to this challenge at our 75th annual RC Show from March 1-3, 2020 in Toronto. Here are some of the key lessons they’ll be sharing for how to thrive in today’s tough labour market.

Remove barriers to entry

As of July 1, 2019, a record number of Canadians – 17.5 per cent of the population, or more than one out of six people – were at least 65. With an aging population, we’re seeing the share of working-age Canadians progressively decline. Only about two-thirds of our population are currently between the ages of 15 and 64, and this proportion is expected to fall below 60 per cent by 2061.

Given this new normal, recruitment efforts must leave no stone unturned and ensure that historically under-represented populations are being reached. Inclusive approaches to job postings and hiring practices are critical.

While new Canadians have always been vitally important to the success of our industry, their skills and passion are needed now more than ever. Businesses need to make sure they are making the most of all immigration tools and resources available for welcoming workers from abroad.

Cultivate a culture of well-being and inclusion

Setting people up for success takes more than providing job-specific training. Persistent biases, whether conscious or not, may result in barriers to the equal inclusion and success of all employees.

Policies pertaining to accommodation, harassment, sexual assault and violence are essential to ensuring a healthy work environment where everyone can reach their potential. Maintaining a welcoming, safe and inclusive workplace helps increase employee engagement, reduces absences, and increases retention and productivity.

Provide pathways for long-term growth

The best way to attract reliable employees who will stick around for the long haul is to make sure they see the job as part of a career path.

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When employees see their employers as committed to their continuous learning, they will be more motivated to stay. In return, employers who invest in their employees will benefit from having people with the skills they need to help them grow their operations.

I am fiercely proud to work in an industry that is the No. 1 source of first jobs for Canadians. But we need to get better at highlighting where those first jobs can lead – now, more than ever.

Like all workplaces competing for talent in today’s evaporating labour pool, restaurants need to ensure they are doing everything they can to be as welcoming and inclusive as possible. But equally imperative, they must make sure they are seen as places to grow.

Shanna Munro is President and CEO of Restaurants Canada, a national, not-for-profit association advancing the potential of Canada’s diverse and dynamic foodservice industry.

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.

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