Ottawa Business Growth Survey: The talent shortage hits close to home

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Editor's Note

The Welch LLP Ottawa Business Growth Survey is a comprehensive annual research project that explores what’s ahead for the city’s economy based on surveys with hundreds of business leaders. Read their insights and understand the factors shaping business confidence in Ottawa, in this exclusive report.

A whopping 61 per cent of respondents to the 2022 Welch LLP Ottawa Business Growth Survey plan to recruit new employees in the coming year, up from 25 per cent in the depths of the pandemic and the highest level since 2015. However, those plans are being stymied by a lack of qualified candidates. 

“There is definitely a fight for talent in most sectors of the economy – in many cases a company’s growth potential is directly connected to its ability to recruit and retain staff. This also represents a challenge for understaffed organizations, with more pressure on staff at a time when many employees are looking for enhanced work – life balance,” says Jim McConnery, managing partner at Welch LLP. “This can lead to a purposeful decision to mitigate growth targets to ensure a sustainable pace of activity for an organization’s workforce.”

Survey results reflect this sentiment, with 57 per cent of respondents saying it’s harder to recruit and retain employees. To help address the problem, 65 per cent have hired immigrants, up 14 percentage points from last year. However, that also has its difficulties.

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Dana Brown, dean of the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University, says requirements around experience and credentials often mean immigrants can’t access jobs. “My Uber drivers in Ottawa are engineers and accountants and highly qualified people and they can’t find jobs. And yet we have the talent deficit.”

The labour shortage is perhaps particularly dire in the skilled trades, where 54 per cent of respondents say a shortage of workers has negatively impacted their ability to operate.

“Canada is facing an alarming shortage of skilled tradespeople,” says Justin Schurman, RBC regional vice-president, business financial services. “Infrastructure projects, home renovations - they’re all at risk. We won’t be able to fix this without attracting more people to the trades. More young people, more women, more people from diverse backgrounds. They need to see trades as rewarding, where they can build their career for themselves.”

Schurman points to the fact that about 700,000 tradespeople will retire by 2028. With not enough workers to replace them, Canada could be short 60,000 apprentices by 2025, he adds.

“That’s the main problem that our members are experiencing right now is the retention of personnel and to be able to hire new personnel - and qualified personnel.” - Marc Chenier, general director at the Regroupement des Gens d’Affaires de la Capitale Nationale (RGA) 

Retaining staff is another issue, with cash-strapped employers offering more flexibility and opportunities for learning, while also enhancing workplace culture. This at a time when one-third of respondents say the pandemic caused their company culture to deteriorate.

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In her role as dean, Brown says the talent gap is something she hears about a lot. “These are really significant shifts and significant trends,” she says of employees’ changing views of what they want from the workplace. She points to the city’s universities and colleges as a source of talent and as partners to the business community, especially since students today desire more experiential learning.

“To me, the skills gap, the need for talent, and the students’ need to be in the world doing things, those things could come together really nicely,” Brown argues. “I think every company should want to have the next generation’s voice at the table right now because the future is very uncertain.”

The rise in cyber-crime that has come along with increased online business is another worry. Half of respondents said they took measures over the past year to protect privacy, data and digital assets and feel those measures have added a layer of security. At the same time, 20 per cent said they had taken measures but felt there was still a risk.

That risk may be coming from unexpected quarters.

“It’s interesting that so many of the additional measures taken are specific to upgrading tools and technologies and, yet, only 38 per cent of local companies conducted a basic criminal record check and only 18 per cent opted for fingerprinting to screen new employees,” says Paul Guindon, CEO of

Commissionaires Ottawa. “You also need to be able to trust the people in your organization,” Guindon explains, pointing to online portals, mobile services and bulk billing solutions for employers who want to verify the identity and integrity of new employees and contractors.

Visit https://www.ottawabusinesssurveyreport.ca to download your copy.