Home Regular Contributors Shane Wenzel Where Did All the Workers Go?

Where Did All the Workers Go?

Shane Wenzel

It’s easy to find work in Calgary!

‘Now Hiring’ signs are on display everywhere across Calgary. Some employers are offering higher than the ‘newest minimum wage’; and others are enticing applicants with promises to fund post-secondary education. Signing bonuses are often on-the-table for much-needed truck drivers. We have all experienced the shortage in labour either at our companies, or while standing in extra-long bank and retail lineups, or experiencing slower than usual service at restaurants.

As the pandemic continues to ease, the pool of potential workers is noticeably smaller. Before the pandemic officially arrived in March 2020, people were working and business was looking forward to a stronger economy. We were still waiting for the ‘nervous investors’ to return, but the entrepreneurs were back and ready to offer ‘good jobs’.

The lockdowns undoubtedly caused an unprecedented shock to work life. Suddenly we were forced into a giant work-from-home or stay home scenario. Time off during lockdowns caused some to reflect on their future and chose a different path. Many in their prime working years – for a variety of reasons – prefer to remain working from home, and older workers edging close to retirement at lockdown sped up retirement. Employers are scrambling to respond. The professional workforce and blue collar workforce alike are affected. Unexpectedly, this may take longer to deal with than the evolving supply chain shortages. A common challenge for many industries – including my own – is the extreme shortage in trained and experienced tradespeople. This has led to increased labour costs and higher consumer prices.

Now that mandates are effectively gone, a fair assumption was that people who had not already returned would do so. It is hoped that expiring benefits may coax more prime-age workers off the sidelines, however early retirees will be less likely to return. As the economy moves ahead, this imbalance between the need for workers and their availability is quickly becoming a challenge for many industries. There is also growing concern that an overheated job market could add fuel to the already growing inflation.

A glimpse into the future suggests we need to take different steps quickly to keep our economy moving forward. Employers may find ways using robots or remote workers. However, the need for business to seriously collaborate on solutions has never been more relevant. We need to find ways to encourage more prime-age workers to return to work and get more young workers trained for the future. There is no evidence workers are quitting because they have become work-shy as some are willing to work for less pay to work fewer hours.

Companies are considering a number of possibilities and strategies.

  • Is remote working here to stay? And are employers happy with the need to spend less on desk and floor space?
  • Is there a need to create and hire entirely new kinds of jobs based on all the new technology?
  • Perhaps we need new education or training models. Major IT companies are championing six-year public high schools vs. four that would combine traditional education with community college mentoring and real-world job experience.

The bottom line is we need collaboration between business, government and civil society. The future of job creation is no longer white collar vs. blue collar. It appears to be ‘new collar.’