MRO Magazine


The War for Talent: Practical advice to tackle chronic skills shortages head on

After a few years in the doldrums, the Canadian economy is in the initial stages of a wide scale recovery and heightened optimism is returning to the industrial and natural resources sectors. The demand for skilled workers has returned with a vengeance and competition to fill those skills gaps is accelerating. Talent management has never been more important.
As we move out of the early recovery into a much more dynamic workplace, we will return to a marketplace driven by employees. The resurgence in the industrial and natural resources sector is here as demand for products, led by the emerging markets, drives these sectors — but a supply of skilled workers will be the most significant challenge the industry will face in the coming years.
The facts speak for themselves. According to an assessment of our own figures and a recent report commissioned by Engineers Canada that was sponsored by Randstad Engineering, we are seeing:
• Of the eight main engineering disciplines (ranging from civil engineers to industrial and aerospace), in 2010, only two sectors were facing significant supply pressures. But by 2012, that number jumps to four and will continue to climb to six by 2018.

• Randstad Engineering has received 25-percent more permanent hire requests and 77-percent more contract hire requests, across Canada, over the last six months.

• The recovery in manufacturing is related to investment in new technologies and engineers will play a key part in this.

• Chronic labour shortages will continue over the next seven years given the current levels of immigration and post secondary enrolments.

• The workforce for industrial and manufacturing engineers grows as engineers from other disciplines (such as mechanical and chemical) switch sectors in order to find work and gain experience in the industry.

There are hard-hitting challenges for employees and employers alike:
1. Demographic shift
One challenge, which has already begun on a limited scale, is the loss of the baby-boom generation to the work force. According to Statistic Canada’s Labour Force Projections for Canada (2006–2031), by the year 2021, nearly one in five workers will be aged 55 or older compared to about one in seven in 2005. With the ageing labour force, Baby Boomers will retire in massive numbers, taking with them some of the most knowledgeable and talented individuals the workforce contains. This presents a key challenge for Canada’s skilled workers. Will employers’ skills needs be met? Will employees be able to realize their aspirations (regarding learning, work and retirement) in their older years? This shift will have a very dramatic effect on the future of the Canadian marketplace.

2. Work-life balance
With today’s new generation of workers, one of the most important changes is the demand for work/life balance. With the desire to have a much greater commitment to family and leisure activities, the ability to meet the increased time commitments of the workplace becomes a real point of contention between employees and potential employers. Employers looking to ensure that they meet this demand are forced to increase their headcount to compensate for the extra work, but also for the absences due to increased commitments for vacation, flexible workdays, training programs and sick days.

In the past, employers were able to work with as little as 10 percent more staff than needed in many industrial settings to cover absent employees; in today’s marketplace, some experts are now quoting as high as 40 percent, which in itself creates more demand for skilled workers. 
3. Training/skills opportunities
The changing dynamic of the workplace has also created a greater need for comprehensive training and skills updating programs. With the speed of changing technology, the skills gap between new employees freshly out of post-secondary institutions versus employees who have been in the industry for the past 10 years or more can be extensive. Both employees and employers must deal with the pace of changing technology effectively — or be left behind as the technology gap increases.

Companies lacking the ability to stay current will see their staff leave in order to work for employers that are on the cutting edge, while employees who fail to stay ahead of the curve will lose their ability to advance their careers.
4. The talent acquisition challenge
The industry’s increased appetite for skilled workers, the ongoing challenge of convincing enough university students to pursue energy-related careers and the considerable demographic shift that is beginning to move Baby Boomers into retirement means companies will need to mine deeper and wider for qualified and talented individuals.
The war for talent between companies is, and will continue to be, intense. Talent acquisition and retention has to become a strategic imperative for industrial and natural resources companies. If companies don’t have a strong overall position, they won’t attract the right people, they won’t retain their quality employees and they won’t compete for the best.
Industrial employers must change the way they do business with prospective recruits, current employees and their high performers in order to maximize the effectiveness of their workforces. They have to start thinking about being more innovative and creative in how they look at acquiring talent. They also have to ensure that the talented professionals they recruit into their organizations land smoothly into their new roles, remain with the company long enough to deliver a return on their training investment and reach their full potential.
Top talent will gravitate to companies that are proactive about talent acquisition and develop a relationship with them to help educate them about their markets, competition and new opportunities. Talented people want to see prospective employers invest in them. They have an increasing number of employment options to consider and the winners in the war for superior talent will be those that differentiate the recruiting process.

In the past, people needed companies. Today, companies need people. New workers stand to gain a wealth of options in their careers. Gone are the days of staying tied to one company or location for their entire career. Employees now have the ability to travel to work locations both nationally and internationally, to become involved in new and emerging fields that didn’t exist even five years ago, and most importantly, striking a work-life balance that many of our parents and grandparents never knew.

Mike Winterfield is the president of Toronto-based Randstad Engineering, involved in professional recruitment and selection. For more information, visit