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Turning Labour Shortage into Staffing Opportunity

How Can Short Term Pain Become Long Term Gain?

On a beautiful afternoon this summer, I met with a friend at a restaurant to finally catch up. This was one of my favorite restaurants because of the consistent quality of food and speedy service. However, things were different this summer: only one-third of the staff showed up to work and those who were present were running behind...

The current labour shortage is not a phenomenon for this restaurant or the retail industry alone: employers from various sectors complain about inadequate staffing levels; company recruiters and headhunters echo the struggles of finding talents to fill their vacancies. A recent article published by The Financial Post revealed that an alarming 84% of employers nationwide expect to experience challenges hiring this year. With almost 1/3 of these employers struggling to fill current openings1. Even with a high unemployment rate sweeping the country, a study released by the Business Development Bank of Canada proved that 55% of small and medium-sized businesses across the provinces are screaming about their difficulty maintaining operations due to staffing issues2. To make the situation worse, we have also entered an era of “great resignation” - a sizable number of millennials and mid-career professionals in various industries have departed from their employers. A terrifying 50% or more of employees from around the world surveyed by Ernst & Young would consider leaving their job post-pandemic, if flexibility would not be offered at their workplace3.

A high resignation rate coupled with a high job vacancy rate poses significant challenges to organizations everywhere. The critical question is, “What can we do about it?”

Below are seven external and internal strategies that I’d like to share:


The future of recruitment is about partnership, not segregation.

Employers proximal to one another and are in similar industries can collaborate to refer candidates. Competent candidates who do not suit one company can easily be referred to other companies within the collaboration. Participating employers can also organize regular meetings to share concerns and seek each other’s support.

Partner with agencies to tap into a less noted supply of local candidates.

First, social services agencies that serve immigrants and refugees, indigenous populations, and people with barriers typically have contacts with reliable people who need to work.

Second, universities and micro-credential programs also have dedicated people to find employment for their students. Building a relationship with these institutions would give easy access to a large pool of candidates. An HR colleague came to the class I taught at a local university and talked about the career opportunities at her organization. By giving her 20 minutes of the class, students gained a realistic picture of the opportunities out there, and the HR colleague was able to source a good number of applications at zero cost and with zero competition as they would experience at a job fair.

Third, another great partner who is often neglected is the outplacement firm. These firms not only help employers rightsize their workforce and exit employees, but also help departing employees transition to their next opportunity. These firms typically have a list of people from all backgrounds and experience levels ready to work.


Is your organization attractive to candidates?

Given all the employers are experiencing, this is a great time to evaluate your recruitment effectiveness. Several organizations that I encounter still maintain their slow response habit when communicating with candidates. Competitive candidates move on quickly. Even the less competitive candidates have more options to choose from nowadays and are becoming more critical about the professionalism of the employers whom they meet.

Is remote work the only flexibility that you offer?

A client organization had three different part-time openings within the same department. By posting each position separately, little success was achieved in two months. However, one candidate with diversified professional backgrounds presented herself with the solid leadership skills that this organization desires. During brainstorming, we proposed that the client create an inventory of all duties that need to be accomplished by the department. We highlighted the job duties that were most suitable and appealing to the candidate and turned them into a full-time role. We called it a “Flexible Job Description.” Then we assessed the rest of the team’s qualifications and interests, re-designed some staff’s duties based on their competencies and development goals. Finally, we presented the updated job descriptions with each staff member to obtain their feedback and consent. We also went creative: we engaged the candidate in some of our conversations, paying her an hourly consulting fee. After a few weeks, all job descriptions were updated and accepted by current staff; the strong candidate joined the team with a higher level of enthusiasm and knowledge of the new employer’s operations.

On another note, when thinking about workplace flexibility, “flexible hours” is a cliché. At a client organization, we experimented by creating an autonomous hours’ approach: putting 3 - 4 people into a “self-managed team” within the organization. Managers do not supervise when employees come and go (log on and off). As long as results are delivered at the end of each week, the employees’ hours are to be arranged among the team members themselves. Employees feel empowered by their managers, and they feel accountable to their teammates under these innovative parameters.

Group of employees discussing workplace culture with a smile
Flexible Workplace Culture


Retain your staff.

The epidemic is reshaping many employees’ views of work. Although with no other job to go to, those who had a bad experience with their organization’s culture or leadership are less hesitant to jump ship. While great staffing strategies can fill a certain number of positions, they will not resolve turnover issues.

Ask for referrals.

The CEO of one organization that I worked at said, “If you do not want to refer your family or friends to work here, then there is a problem with our culture.” Nobody can be a better source of reference for a given organization than the workers who are already there. When employees are informed about current vacancies and are encouraged to refer people they know, you will be surprised about its effect. If your organization does not have an Employee Referral Program, then do not wait any longer to develop it.

Outsource certain functions.

The pandemic has shaken many organizations’ operations. The proactive organizations have periodically reviewed their strategic plans since early 2020. While being informed of the organization’s priorities, urgent tasks that cannot be fulfilled due to shortage of staff and functions that do not contribute to the organization’s core competencies, can be outsourced to external experts. The organizations then switch from hiring and managing employees to managing vendors. Read more from my blog: “Immunize your 2021 HR plan in 5 steps. Do not wait until next year!”

Few employers can avoid the current staffing and retention challenges. Organizations need to develop solutions that are as applicable to present crises as they will be to those that will inevitably arise in the future. Opportunities always exist for organizations that can turn short-term pain into long-term gain.



1 Posthaste: The labour shortage in Canada is getting worse, companies say. Retrieved from:

2 Labour shortage hampering post-pandemic recovery for businesses in Canada, study finds. Retrieved from:

3 More than half of employees globally would quit their jobs if not provided post-pandemic flexibility, EY survey finds. Retrieved from:


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