From restaurants to the resources sector, industries worldwide are facing a shortage of workers. Every day, the news is full of stories about the “dire” need for servers, bartenders, cooks and skilled tradespeople, with many owners now willing to pay more than the going rate.
Some businesses have become so desperate for staff they are turning their backs on humans and embracing technology, while others are being forced to slash their hours or cut products or services, knowing they can’t meet their obligations to clients with insufficient, untrained workers.
Some businesses are blaming the COVID-19 pandemic and – in the case of Canadian business – the federal government’s initial payment of $2,000 a month before taxes through the Canada Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB) to employed and self-employed Canadians affected by the pandemic. Now paid through the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) and set to extend until October 23, the amount paid out has decreased to $600 every two weeks, or $540 after taxes.
For some students, entry-level and unskilled workers, these amounts are more than they received in pre-pandemic wages. Business owners, notably in the hospitality sector and construction, are blaming “generous” government incentives, claiming they have “spoiled workers” who are staying home, and still receiving money.
Even with well-intentioned aid programs providing financial relief, no government or business could have predicted COVID dragging on for so long, with the two-year mark on the horizon. Meanwhile, some former employees have moved into higher-paying jobs with other companies, claiming if they had had better working conditions and pay before the pandemic, the current worker shortage wouldn’t be an issue.
Opportunity for change?
Founder and Chairman of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, believes the pandemic offers humanity the chance to forever change our economic and social foundations, as outlined in his book, co-authored with Thierry Malleret, COVID-19: The Great Reset.
Some believe the book is a positive guide for the years to come; others are viewing it as an updated version of George Orwell’s 1984, forcing us to live a brain-washed dystopian future where we are mindless drones and slaves to the government, owning nothing.
In the United States, some aren’t calling it a labour shortage, but a “great reassessment of work.” Even with President Joe Biden signing a $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill in March to provide much-needed financial help and get America working again, employers still have hundreds of thousands of positions to fill, from entry-level jobs to skilled positions.
A major factor in the overall equation is job uncertainty. In the early days of COVID, many office staff transitioned to working from home with nary a blip, while others in the hotel, restaurant, and travel and tourism sectors saw their industries decimated as many borders were closed and flights halted.
Owing to a lack of work, many left those roles for better-paying, more stable employment in fields like warehousing, real estate and others less likely to be affected by future pandemics.
And some, seeking to upgrade their skills or learn new ones, have returned to colleges and universities taking micro-credential courses to gain new abilities in computer programming and other areas in hours instead of years.
As in restaurants and retail, there is a shortage of skilled workers in oil, gas, and mining. Governments worldwide are scrambling to address the shortage through programs and initiatives. In the United States, some organizations like Ohio-based RecruitMilitary LLC are hosting in-person job fairs focused on veterans country-wide.
And in Canada, after years of uncertainty, some Alberta oilfield services are once again putting out the call for skilled staff with experience in construction, drilling, and fracking.
In its June report The New Reality, Clean Energy Canada devotes a section to job opportunities in wind and solar, citing higher wages than many other industries, with expected growth in the electric vehicle (EV) market.
“While most industries in Canada’s clean energy sector are forecast to grow, one in particular stands out,” says the report. “Jobs in electric vehicle technology are on track to grow 39 percent per year, with 184,000 people set to be employed in the industry in 2030 – a 26-fold increase over 2020.
Much of this growth is due to the rapid adoption of electric vehicles. With EVs set to make up 18 percent of all new passenger vehicle sales by 2030, more clean energy sector workers will be employed building, driving, and operating them.”
Fueling the future
As COVID cases go down and economies open, the shortage of skilled labour in resources and other sectors will get worse unless immediate, permanent changes are made.
A recent study by Deloitte and Manufacturing Institute estimates just one sector, manufacturing, will be short a staggering 2.4 million workers by 2028, despite gaining back 63 percent of jobs lost during the COVID crisis. And while there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, there is much that can be done today, from education to diversity hiring and bringing more women into the resources-sector economy.
It is no surprise that women are underrepresented in the oil, gas and mining industries compared to men. COVID cannot entirely be blamed for this, but it has exposed hiring discrepancies which have existed for years.
As far back as 2016, an industry action plan from Women in Mining Canada – referencing research from the Mining Industry Human Resources Council – stated that “mining companies have a lower representation of women compared to the very same occupation in other industries… whether the occupation is traditionally associated with a higher… or a lower representation of women.”
This lack of female representation from field to boardroom puts Canada’s mining sector “in the bottom tier of TSX-listed companies in both the number and percentage of women directors and women in senior executive positions. Modest gains are happening, particularly on mining boards, but familiar obstacles remain,” according to the report, 2020 Diversity Disclosure Practices: Diversity and leadership at Canadian public companies from Osler.
In 2019, the industries with the highest number and percentage of women directors were utilities and pipelines – number of women directors, 3.1, percentage of women directors, 30 percent; oil and gas – number of women directors, 1.0, percentage of women directors, 12 percent; mining – number of women directors, 0.9, percentage of women directors, 13 percent. At the bottom is energy services – number of women directors, 0.9, and percentage of women directors, 11 percent.
To reach potential job pools, including women, Indigenous Canadians and recent immigrants, some mining companies are turning to job fairs and trade shows to fill skilled positions ranging from geologists to mechanical engineers and licensed mechanics. Some companies are forced into hiring outside Canada, from as far afield as the Ukraine.
The other side of the employment coin, of course, is retention strategies, which include enhanced health and safety protocols to assure workers they are protected – and higher pay, greater benefits, and daycare subsidies. Initiatives like these are vital to ensuring that the world’s resources sector can keep up with demand in a post-pandemic world.