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skills gap

Five ways companies can address the skills shortage

A looming shortage of skilled workers in Canada has been top of mind for business leaders, who need to figure out how their companies can improve the situation, says Michael Denham, managing director for Accenture in Canada.

Forecasters say more than 500,000 unskilled workers "won't be able to find work in the next decade – even as 1.5 million job vacancies go unfilled," Mr. Denham pointed out in a recent speech to the Toronto Board of Trade. "This is a real and serious issue that has the potential to undermine the strength of individual companies, and the broader prosperity of Canada itself.

"It's not, as some would characterize it, simply a case of too many university graduates and not enough pipefitters. The skills shortage cuts across the corporate landscape – from manufacturing and oil and gas, to registered nurses to financial services professionals."

Recent research done by Accenture, a consulting services firm, shows that 59 per cent of Canadian executives are concerned about the availability of skilled labour their organizations will need over the next two years.

Accenture surveyed executives at 100 Canadian companies about the skills gap and found that only 36 per cent believe they have the right people with the right skills to meet their needs now and over the next two years. The survey's results echo the findings of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce that the skills crisis is the main barrier to Canada's competitiveness.

Mr. Denham outlined five strategies companies can deploy to address the skills gap and ensure they have the required staff.


"The skills shortage presents us with a renewed imperative to rethink our traditional patterns and habits – not least as it pertains to where we find workers here in Canada and how we bring them into the fold," he said.

That means companies need to consider different ways to run their businesses, including developing flexible operating models, organizational structures, and career paths centered on skills rather than business functions. For example, in a department staffed with people with analytics skills, these highly sought-after employees can support work in functions as diverse as finance, HR, logistics and operations.


Companies need to know what skills their employees possess, Mr. Denham said. "Better understanding the talent and potential of our own people allows us to identify skills and competencies that can be put to work in a more effective way."

The broad capabilities of existing employees do not necessarily show up as keywords in job descriptions. Talent management software can help by using analytics to better match broad capabilities to jobs. All surveyed executives who are experiencing a skills gap said they lack the ability to track and measure skills within their company.


"One of the ways that we as companies hamper our search for talent is by being too narrow in our criteria," Mr. Denham said. "We're wasting time and resources as we wait for the perfect candidate to come along."

Rather than seeking the perfect match to a job description, seek new hires who demonstrate a capacity to learn a specific role or skill, and who fit with the company's culture. Then use internal training programs to help them acquire or strengthen the skills they need for the job. This approach provides access to a larger pool of candidates who can be recruited more quickly, he said.

When asked about specific skill sets, Canadian executives most commonly identified leadership (70 per cent), problem solving (69 per cent), analytical (66 per cent) and technology (65 per cent) as most needed within their organizations.


Consider skilled workers who are in low demand in one industry to work in sectors and geographic regions where demand for their talents is high. Accenture's study found 55 per cent of Canadian executives reported that they are currently engaged in redeploying existing employees into new roles, and 18 per cent had relocated existing workers to new locations.

"Consider the auto worker, whose experience in engineering or mechanics or in the management of a production line may be well suited to a career in the resource industry," Mr. Denham said. "Or the forestry worker whose unique skillset is sought after by a utility company."


Work with other industry players and educational institutions to build a pool of skilled workers and to share the costs and risks of establishing training programs, Mr. Denham said. This will help companies reach a wider audience of potential employees.

When asked if they would pursue a collaborative industry solution with other businesses to co-fund training to re-skill workers, 40 per cent of Canadian companies already experiencing a skills gap said they were unlikely to consider this step, and the remaining 60 per cent were only somewhat likely to. None of the surveyed companies facing a current skills shortage reported engaging in collaboration within their industry to co-fund training.

"In a time of hiring challenge, companies need to explore if there's an opportunity to come together and ... share the cost of attracting, training and retaining those who have an interest in joining an industry," he said.