We’ve heard it many times over the past year: “Where are all the workers?” or “Nobody wants to work anymore.” Across sectors, industries and regions, these common refrains are re-enforced with “help wanted” signs and articles about labour force shortages.
So what has happened? Where have all the workers gone? Statistics Canada released its June Survey of Employment, Payroll and Hours data last week and it showed that contrary to the narrative that “nobody wants to work anymore,” there are actually more workers on payroll in Canada than in the five years previous.
Despite this, we also see in the same report that job vacancies have continued to increase over time at an unrelenting rate, and we know from the Government of B.C.’s 2021 Labour Market Outlook that over the next 10 years there will be one million job openings in British Columbia and 63 per cent of those “will replace workers leaving the labour force.”
Economists have warned for decades of a coming slump in available workers when the “bubble” of baby boomers becomes a “bust” as they retire, with not nearly as many gen X, millennial or gen Z workers available to replace them. That slump has arrived and collided with COVID-19 and supply chain disruptions.
Given that the workers haven’t disappeared, where do we go from here? Before us lays the opportunity to re-imagine what traditional “work” looks like. The priorities of workers are changing and the opportunity we have is to change alongside this.
By 2030, over 20 per cent of our population will be seniors, and those who want to (or for necessity must) work would often prefer flexible working arrangements such as semi-retirement if offered. A recent Harris Poll conducted on behalf of Express Employment Professionals showed that 76 per cent of Canadian baby boomer respondents said they would opt for a flexible work schedule if allowed, and 60 per cent would choose reduced hours with reduced benefits.
This desire for flexibility goes hand-in-hand with what younger workers are looking for in employment as well: the ability to work from home (or from anywhere) or to have flexible hours to accommodate childcare, eldercare, education or other commitments.
A recent Bloomberg article explained it by saying that “an alternative model is to see the workforce as a cornerstone, a more permanent relationship where frontline workers form the foundation of the business. That means investing more in workers and offering training and career development, though it comes with the risk that those workers could still choose to leave.”
As we move into Labour Day this long weekend, what lays ahead for us is opportunity — for employers, to creatively explore new or different ways of engaging their current and potential future workforce that will both meet your needs as a business owner and will inspire confidence and enthusiastic engagement of workers, from baby boomers through the upcoming generation alpha; and for employees, to bring forward innovative solutions to both fulfill your need for work-life balance and fulfill the needs of your employer.
You can help create the road map for the future of the workforce.
Jill McKnight is executive director of the Delta Chamber of Commerce.