Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

More jobs created

But skill shortages create problems

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December, our big spending month, is the subject of mostly good news for a change. For instance, Statistics Canada reported the Manitoba's jobless rate fell to 5.3 per cent in November, down from 5.6 in the previous month. Canada-wide, there were a surprising number of new jobs in November, nearly all full time and in the private sector. This suggests the economy is continuing to strengthen and that businesses are more optimistic.

Interestingly enough, Statistics Canada's good news coincides with the latest Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce business survey released just last week. The survey tapped the shoulders of business leaders in every industry sector with the results substantiating a clear increase in business confidence. More than 50 per cent of survey participants indicated their workforce had increased over the past year while capital investments were also reported to have significantly increased. At the same, the chamber survey continued the good news by showing an increase in business profitability.

Unfortunately, one cold damper on the good news glory was that Winnipeg survey participants also identified a shortage of skilled workers was continuing to be a problem. A shortage of skilled labour not only limits the ability to service customers, but it certainly makes it difficult to grow. At the same time, this shortage also serves to fuel the so-called war for talent.

Frankly, a war for talent can sometimes parallel a seller's market in the real estate business. In other words, employees in skill-shortage industries can command higher wages and since everyone is feeling the pain, employers often end up bidding against each other for the services of the skilled employee. As a search consultant, I guarantee there's nothing more annoying than offering a potential employee a good job only to have the current employer match or exceed the salary offer. On the other hand, employers are very disappointed to see good people move over to the competition.

In my view, while this skill-shortage scenario is indeed painful as well as challenging, it is simply not the time to reduce your attention and effort on human resource management. In fact, since we know money is not a lasting personal motivator, I would rather see organizations double their efforts to ensure a positive workplace culture. After all, a positive organizational culture creates a solid foundation that will allow you to consistently attract and retain workers.

Skill shortages are a prime opportunity to engage your workers, ensure the entire workforce knows and understands your goals and feels a sense of accomplishment in respect to how they contribute to your success. The following workforce strategies can easily be applied to any organization and will help to motivate your employees and create a culture of success and engagement.

Be an inspirational role model -- no matter what your business challenges, get out there among your employees with a spring in your step and a steadfast smile. Inspire your employees by focusing on the positive and demonstrating your own personal energy as you focus on the future.

Share your vision -- employees want to know where the organization is going and if they will have continuity in their job. Avoid sugar coating any challenges but at the same time, project a strong "we can overcome" attitude. Provide a clear picture of your vision for the future and demonstrate how they can contribute to accomplishing this goal.

Find creative solutions -- yes, skill shortages exist but there are also creative ways to accommodate and/or overcome this issue. Consult your local community college for partnerships, mentorships, additional on-the-job apprenticeships. Create unique entry levels, combine occupations that make sense and investigate the potential of cross training. Work with your professional association and partner with industry sector colleagues to find a group solution.

Invest in your employees -- employee training is considered money in the bank, especially programs that increase teamwork and productivity. Focus on identifying top internal talent and provide progressive training, both technical and leadership oriented. Help employees develop personal confidence in their skills and abilities and watch the loyalty, commitment and energy develop.

Incorporate Career GPS -- employees who clearly understand what motivates them, what their skills are and what they like to do, are more likely to look for success and achievement within your organization. Provide career management training programs so that employees become internally motivated and will not be seduced by offers of money. Let those who recognize they don't belong leave and instead, concentrate on employees who are a good fit to your organization.

Engage employees -- my experience is that engaged employees are loyal employees who demonstrate synergy and energy that results in higher productivity and commitment. Involving employees in problem solving and process improvement initiatives utilizes internal creativity and you'll be shocked at the talent that will rise to the top. Look for these opportunities and take advantage of them.

Formalize a workforce plan -- this should be done regardless of a skill shortage or not. The focus for workforce planning is to have the right people doing the right jobs at the right time. A workforce plan creates a snapshot of your human resource situation as it looks at your strategic direction, identifies what skills you will need and when and how you will achieve this goal. Be sure to link this plan with the overall strategic and financial plans.

Formalize a succession plan -- examine the demographics of your workforce, and identify challenge areas such as the number of potential retirees within each occupational group. Pinpoint and identify individuals who could possibly fit into the potential vacancies and develop a succession plan that will ensure all of the potential gaps are covered. Apply training, coaching and mentoring as strategies to build up the skill levels.

Develop an action plan -- plans are of absolutely no use if all they do is sit on your shelf or hide within the confines of your computer. Be sure to have an implementation plan with assigned dates, responsibility assignments, identified activities, benchmarks and accountabilities. Also be sure to make your accomplishments known and celebrate the many successes.

While we are moving into some of our coldest months, I can honestly say I'm excited to learn about the good December business news. In fact, I'm beginning to feel the heat from the economic engine as it seems to suggest 2013 will be a great year for both employers and employees.

Source: Province's jobless rate down in November, Ashley Prest, Winnipeg Free Press, Dec. 7, 2012 Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, Manitoba Bold, survey 2012

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP, M.Ed is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She can be reached at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 15, 2012 H1

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