Huron County council explores current job market
HURON COUNTY – Lara Vanstone, director of human resources for Huron County, provided county council with an in-depth report looking into today’s job market, including trends that have emerged since the COVID pandemic drastically changed the way people work.
The report focused on three high-level areas, expanding on the employees’ market, the impact of the workforce challenges, and the county’s proactive approach to addressing the challenges.
“What an employee wants, and what will keep them in an organization, is to be compensated fairly, room for career mobility, opportunities for growth, and a feeling of respect and inclusion,” Vanstone wrote in her report. “If we don’t adhere to these fundamental principles of talent management, it will be difficult not only to attract, but also to retain staff.”
“We know that labour shortages caused by shifting demographics are being experienced by workplaces across the country, creating this employees’ market,” Vanstone said. “Even if all of our youth remained in the County of Huron, there still won’t be enough new workers to fill jobs (from) 2030 right into 2040.”
Vanstone spoke about how the departure of 55-plus workers from the workforce (retirees) with fewer young people to replace them has led to virtually unprecedented labour shortages across nearly every employment sector.
Some people believe the pandemic is a catalyst for the current labour shortages, with some workers taking advantage of workplace shutdowns to look for self-employment opportunities or take early retirement. Still, Vanstone said this is not believed to be the cause of the current trends.
In June 2022, Statistics Canada shared that the majority of businesses can expect recruiting and retaining staff to be more challenging than 12 months ago, and that management and existing staff may have to work more hours as a result of the labour challenges. As Vanstone’s report indicates, the County of Huron is already seeing these predictions come true.
“It’s important for employers now to be creative more than ever, in their efforts of seeking new sources for its workforce and standard as an employer of choice,” said Vanstone.
Impact of workplace shortages
The county’s service delivery review, undertaken in 2020, indicated that Huron County could expect to see a 28 per cent decrease in staff due to retirement by 2024, a trend already noticed in 2023.
“Today, 37 per cent of county employees have been working for the corporation for less than three years,” Vanstone said in the report. “It is also important to note that the majority of these newer staff were onboarded in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.”
Vacant positions continue to rise in Huron’s homes for the aged; in January 2022, there were 29 permanent line vacancies, and by December 2022, that number had increased to 40.
Vanstone said, “While not nearly as extreme, other departments are also seeing increases in temporary vacancies.”
The report also said that student positions are becoming increasingly difficult to fill. In 2022, six of 27 (13 students plus 14 seasonal) available positions remained unfilled for the entire season.
Staff retention rates in Huron County are lower among newer staff, Vanstone reported.
“The results of the 2018 Employee Engagement Survey indicated that 21 per cent of staff were ‘looking or thinking of accepting a job with another employer,’” said Vanstone. “In 2021, that number increased to 27 per cent. Considering the fact that in 2020, the County of Huron anticipated 28 per cent of its staff would soon be entering retirement, this 27 per cent of staff considering new employment may be more statistically significant than it appears.”
A job optimism survey conducted by Robert Half indicated that 62 per cent of job seekers were looking for a higher salary, 39 per cent were seeking better benefits and perks, 30 per cent sought better advancement opportunities, and 27 per cent wanted greater flexibility to choose when and where they work.
The top turn-offs for potential candidates include unclear or unreasonable job responsibilities, poor communication with the hiring manager, and misalignment with the company culture and values.
The human resources department reported declining applications over the last five years. In 2018, the county had 320 applications for three part-time paramedic positions. That’s 106 applications for each position available. In 2022, there were only 92 applications for 20 part-time paramedic positions. That’s 4.6 applications for each position open.
The report said that of the 20 paramedics hired in 2022, only 13 remain employed by the County of Huron.
At the same time, the total number of job postings across all departments is increasing. There were 184 job postings in 2022, up from 103 in 2018 (including jobs posted multiple times). This represents a 78 per cent increase in total job postings since 2018.
Vanstone noted how these declining application rates and frequent staff turnover impacted the county.
The financial impact of staff turnover includes but is not limited to: the cost of hiring, cost of training and/or onboarding, any severance or bonus packages upon departure, loss in productivity during a vacancy, errors in customer service, impact to service delivery and loss of engagement from other employees.
“The cost of turnover is not the only factor to consider,” Vanstone said. “There are many other financial impacts associated with backfilling vacant positions. Currently backfilling vacant county positions is achieved by existing staff absorbing the responsibilities of vacant positions, increasing overtime hours, hiring agency staff, or outsourcing certain functions to outside vendors and contractors.”
Frequent staff turnover and vacant positions have additional costs that cannot be easily measured but should be noticed, Vanstone said, including staff burnout, health impacts, reduced employee engagement, individual and team development, missed opportunities, and overburdened management.
The 2021 Western Ontario Wardens Caucus (WOWC) Workforce Strategy Report said, “Because of a significant shift in demographics over the past 20 years, the region is now facing a large wave of retirements in the coming years relative to the number of local young people joining the workforce.
If the workforce is to continue growing as in the past, it will require new sources of workers. This new talent can come from outside the WOWC region (such as migrants from elsewhere in Canada or immigrants) or from inside the region (e.g., older people putting off retirement, underrepresented groups in the labour market, etc.).
Over the next decade, total employment across the WOWC region is expected to rise by over 51,000, a growth rate of 8.0 per cent. The sectors with the fastest expected growth over this period are health care, construction, manufacturing, retail, trade, administrative, and support services.
Without a substantial influx of new workers, the local population in the WOWC region will not be able to supply workforce demand through 2030 or 2040. Assuming no young people left the region, the workforce supply gap through 2030 is over 84,000.
Because of the anticipated workforce supply gap indicated in the WOWC Workforce Strategy Report, the County of Huron will need to increase recruitment efforts outside the region, expanding efforts to reach potential newcomers to rural Ontario and newcomers to Canada. To succeed in this goal, the corporation must consider if it offers a welcoming and inclusive workplace community for all.
Newcomers to the region and the country will become an even more critical source of the workforce. Smaller employers will need assistance with equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts to ensure welcoming workplaces and communities.
The County of Huron is working proactively to meet the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s workforce. This will ensure the county can attract and retain top talent and maintain staffing levels during challenging recruitment periods.
One of the ways the county is preparing itself for the future is by implementing the actions outlined in the Modernization Project. The Modernization Project is a series of initiatives undertaken in multiple departments that, when combined, are designed to strengthen the county’s corporate services.
The county is also implementing several recruitment initiatives, including new recruitment tools, youth engagement, employee engagement, corporate culture and values, professional growth and development, compensation review, human resources policies, and Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI).
In the fall of 2023, staff will participate in another Benchmark Employee Engagement Survey expanded recruitment and talent attraction program by continuing to move forward with the initiatives and goals outlined in the EDI framework. Additionally, a continued attrition management planning with a focus on purposeful workforce strategic planning.
Finally, Vanstone spoke to council members about their role in assisting with recruitment and retention efforts. She encouraged them to speak frequently and positively about corporate achievements, support recruitment and retention initiatives, and increase expressions of gratitude.
Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wingham Advance Times