Lack of labour key finding in survey
By Chad Ingram
Published March 13, 2018
A shortage of labour, and skilled, trained workers, is one of the biggest hurdles to doing business in Highlands East, a business retention and expansion survey has found.
Joanne Vanier, community economic development and committee co-ordinator, presented the findings of the survey, conducted by members of the township’s business and economic advisory committee, to township councillors during a March 7 meeting.
Forty-three businesses in the area took part in the survey.
“Fifty-nine per cent of businesses expressed they have difficulty hiring,” Vanier told councillors. “Almost half of employers have challenges with labour, rating the ability of qualified workers, stability of the workforce and ability to attract new employees as fair to poor. Hiring challenges were primarily related to recruitment, lack of skills, training and experience. Businesses responded that hiring challenges were specifically related to the community, as opposed to the industry.”
Along with a poorly trained workforce, other challenges identified by business owners included the loss of the local Scotiabank and low disposable income in the area.
The survey’s findings were shared with a task force that included representatives of businesses and business associations, the Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce, the Haliburton County Development Corporation and staff from the County of Haliburton.
A brainstorming session with members of the task force produced a series of goals.
“Goal No. 1 is to improve the quality and availability of the Highlands East workforce,” Vanier said. “Our objectives to do that are educate youth about local employment opportunities, enhance the skills of the current workforce, address transportation challenges for the labour force and improve access to a casual labour pool.”
Other goals included growing the area’s consumer base, including by engaging seasonal residents in the off-season, and building a year-round business community.
Councillor Cec Ryall, who chairs the committee, praised Vanier for her work and said Highlands East wasn’t alone when it came to workforce issues.
“The greatest restriction, which equates to about 10 per cent of sales, is that they don’t have enough qualified people,” Ryall said. “And that’s a challenge that, from what I understand . . . we’re not the only people that have that problem, it is a common problem across all of Ontario, especially rural Ontario, is how to attract the right, skilled people to perform the work that you want.”
Ryall said he hoped the survey report would be the start of some serious and long-lasting work on the issue by the municipality.
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got,” he said.
Councillor Joan Barton suggested that the committee prioritize the many recommendations in the report, and that council could then begin addressing the most immediate issues.
While recruiting workers may be a problem for many businesses, retaining them is not as much of an issue. Sixty-six per cent of survey respondents said they don’t have a problem keeping employees.
Eighty-eight per cent of the businesses surveyed were locally owned and operated, with the owners living in the community.
“Our businesses are primarily small businesses that employ between one and four people,” Vanier said. Twenty-three per cent of those businesses have annual sales below $100,000, while 21 per cent have sales exceeding $1 million.
Nearly 70 per cent of respondents said Highlands East was a good place to do business, citing quality of life, low land costs and new staffing at municipality as some of the positive aspects.
Respondents did say, however, they would like to see more business development work by the municipality.
“The single negative comment by most businesses was the lack of business development services and/or an economic development officer,” Vanier said.