by Heidi Riley
The Atlantic Provinces Economic Council (APEC) conference held recently in Charlottetown discussed Atlantic Canada’s labour challenges. A panel of business leaders, training organizations, and HR professionals spoke about their own labour force challenges and solutions that work.
Dr. Nicholas Krouglicof, Dean, Faculty of Sustainable Design Engineering, UPEI
He talked about the change in curriculum in engineering schools to put a greater emphasis on practical experience working with industry and preparing students for the workforce.
“The Faculty of Sustainable Design Engineering at UPEI changed the educational model from students sitting in a classroom listening to lectures to a more project-based environment with open-ended design projects determined by clients.
“We have also put more emphasis on professional skills like teamwork, communication, professionalism, ethics and equity, and sustainability. Industry is saying they can find people with technical skills, but it is harder to find people with those professional skills. Life-long learning is also important. Technologies change quickly, and students need to be able to educate themselves when they face a new problem.”
Challenges in recruiting faculty
“Very few PhDs in Engineering end up in academic positions. Most work in industry. When we post a job ad for faculty, we get hundreds of applicants. But it is a challenge to find someone with a PhD who excels in teaching in a non-traditional environment, has industry and design experience, and has potential for excellence in industry sponsored research.”
Shortages in the engineering profession
“Engineers Canada reports that there are 100,000 pending retirements in the engineering profession in the next few years. That is a shocking statistic. There is no way the educational system can make up for the retirements that are coming. It is not something easily fixed by immigration. Because licensing requirements are so stringent, it is difficult for a foreign-trained engineer to be licensed in Canada.”
For more about the UPEI Faculty of Sustainable Design Engineering, visit www.upei.ca/programs/engineering
Andrew MacDonald, Head of Invesco Enterprise Services, Charlottetown
Invesco is a global asset management firm that employs 8,500 people world-wide. The Charlottetown office employs 500 people in customer service, account administration, technology support, project management, and information security.
“We grew from 24 people when we started here in 2007, and we have certainly encountered our fair share of labour challenges over the years as we have grown,” says Andrew Macdonald. “There is not just one solution. It is more about an overall strategy and culture.”
Invest internally in people and promote from within.
“We need people with technical skills, but those who really succeed also have durable soft skills. We foster transferable ‘soft’ skills such as critical thinking, oral and written communication, decision making, and customer service,” he says. “Someone who can supervise a team of client service agents could be a great project manager by flexing those same muscles, with a bit of supplemental technical training.”
Encourage employees to stay with the organization with competitive pay.
“Base salary, merit-based increases every year, employer-paid health and dental premiums, a group RRSP program and generous time off allowances are the things that make people want to stay. Even small things like supplying a parking spot, paying for a transit pass, or having a latte machine and sparkling water machine go a long way with staff.”
Create a flexible workplace.
“We are open to people wearing casual clothes, or working from home full-time or part-time with a company-issued PC so they can serve clients as effectively at home as they can from our office,” Andrew says.
“We also try to remain flexible with respect to time away from the office. For example, Invesco employees are given half a day every year to plan their own financial futures and an additional half day to volunteer in their community beyond their annual allowance of vacation time and miscellaneous days.
“Small changes that don’t cost a lot go a long way to creating a workforce that people want to remain part of.”
Embrace immigration and relocation.
“A relatively low cost of living, low crime rate, and low traffic rate make PEI an attractive place to live for displaced Islanders and international newcomers to Canada,” he says. “We have a strong focus on diversity and inclusion that cuts across traditional categories like gender or ethnic backgrounds.
“You need to create an environment where it is safe for folks to make their opinion heard and bring their whole selves to work. Gone are the days when we simply post a job locally and get flooded with qualified applicants, especially if the role is more technical or specialized.”
Invesco uses platforms like Indeed or LinkedIn to proactively recruit for these specialized roles, and, if needed, relocate talent to PEI.
“For both newcomers to the province or newcomers to Canada, we have found that the decision to stay on PEI is based on broader ‘life’ issues like the quality of K-12 education, their child’s ability to integrate into the school system, cultural integration for the family into the community, spousal employment, and getting a family physician,” says Andrew.
Partnering with post-secondary institutions.
“It is important for us to be on campus, offer leadership, subject matter expertise, guest lectures, attend career fairs, and embrace OJT and co-op programs to stay top of mind with students and professors as an employer of choice.”
For more information about Invesco, visit www.invesco.ca/PEI
Kevin Clancey, Managing Partner, Sprypoint
SpryPoint was founded in 2011 and focuses on specialized software and consultancy services for electric, water, gas, and broadband utilities from all over North America from their office in Charlottetown.
“Human resources is an exceptionally big challenge for us,” says Kevin Clancey. “In the last 12 months, we have grown from 11 to 22 employees. We would hire five more if we could find them.”
“As a small business, it is difficult to attract people. This summer, we posted two positions on job boards: Development Lead and IOS Developer. For one we had two applications, and for the other we had zero. That is how challenging it is for us to find the right skill set.
“The other big challenge is the size of the labour pool on PEI for the type of skills we are looking for. Programmers, Architects, Project Managers, and Consultants are very difficult resources to find locally on PEI.”
Human resource solutions
Go outside traditional ways of finding people. “Human resources is our number one priority. Every week, the four of us meet to talk about how to attract people who would be great for our company. We reach out to friends, family, and partners to find talent. Most of our new hires are from staff referrals. We are working together to find our future resources.
“In the past year, almost 90 percent of our new hires were newcomers to PEI, and 60 percent were new to Canada. We have been able to attract folks from New Brunswick and British Columbia to PEI. If it was not for immigration, we would be dead in the water with our growth.
“As a small company, it has been fantastic to work with Innovation PEI. We have worked with them to guide us as we try to find the right fit for our company.”
Developing people internally. “As an example, we recently hired someone with a Masters in Physics as a technical consultant. We are adapting smart people who are willing to work with us, and we are finding our required skill sets by onboarding and training them in the specific areas we need.”
Using co-op programs. “UPEI, UNB, and other university co-op programs are exceptionally important to us. The skill level of our co-op students shows us the quality of students coming from local programs. We have hired three co-op students into future positions in the past two years. We just need more of them. Unfortunately, UPEI only puts out a certain number of IT graduates a year, and a lot of firms are looking to hire them.”
Adapting to where our employees are. “We have two employees who live in New Brunswick, one in BC, and one in Ontario. We are also looking to open a remote office soon.”
Retention. “We cannot afford to lose good employees. We offer attractive packages and a really rewarding career path. We have great people, and some are escalating so fast, that we have to adapt the rewards and compensation at the right time.
“To sustain the growth of the company, we are bringing in highly technical folks, and we are also starting a management program, identifying leaders, and providing them with support and mentoring. We are trying to build soft skills, like leadership, listening, and compassion.”
For more information about Sprypoint, visit www.sprypoint.com
Nicole Paquet, People Advisory Practice Lead for Atlantic Canada, EY (Ernst and Young)
Through the company’s four service lines — Assurance, Advisory, Tax and Transaction Advisory Services – EY helps organizations capitalize on opportunities, fulfill regulatory requirements, keep investors informed, and meet stakeholder needs.
Nicole Paquet works with clients in diverse industries across Atlantic Canada. “They are all dealing with the same core issues: an aging workforce and outmigration, which are not new,” says Nicole.
“We have an opportunity in the Atlantic region with the high numbers of newcomers. How do we make sure our people strategy includes diversity and inclusion? You need to create the type of environment and employee experience that is inclusive. That is a different set of behaviours, considering what the present aging workforce is used to. This is not just an HR issue. This is a leadership issue.
“The issue is always how to find the resources. Do you have capability to get you where you want to go? What does the shift to automation mean for competencies and behaviours? What kind of culture do you need to create so that your aging workforce can reintegrate into the workforce? How are you managing your talent? Does everyone know what is expected of them? What is the role of our people leaders in creating that environment? People issues are really business issues.
“Changes do not have to be expensive. It starts with clearly defining the competencies, behaviours, and mindsets, and linking them to the rest of your people programs. Then you need to see how the leadership team is displaying those behaviours, and how to create the environment that helps new hires thrive.
“Often companies think higher wages are the best way to attract and retain employees. But that just gets them in the door. People will leave if they don’t get the right employee experience. Besides salary, consider some of the other things people might value, such as learning and development opportunities. Another important thing is being in the know. You can’t put a price on communicating openly and being authentic.
“To create an environment where people want to stay, get the staff to become ambassadors for your organization, and create a consistent brand, externally and internally.
“The common thread between large and small companies is how to equip and develop people leaders. It is about having authentic conversations. If you can get the leadership team to display the behaviours you want to see, you are 85 percent there.”
For more about EY, visit www.ey.com/en_gl/what–we–do