'The priorities have shifted': Nearly half of Canadian firms plan to spend on employee training, satisfaction

Nearly half of Canadian business leaders surveyed for a new report said they plan to boost spending on skills training for their staff in the next two years.

The bi-annual survey released Wednesday found that 47 per cent of Canadian respondents said their companies planned to spend more on training employees, and 42 per cent said they'd spend more on employee satisfaction and well-being. 

The report called Navigator: Made for the Future was conducted by research firm Kantar on behalf of HSBC. It surveyed decision makers at 2,500 businesses in 14 countries and territories, 200 of them in Canada.

While 54 per cent of those Canadian business leaders said their companies would make investments that fall under the category of research, innovation and technology, Dan Leslie, deputy head of commercial banking for HSBC Bank Canada said the results show that technology is only half the story.

"Tech adoption brings improvements but also creates the need for new skills," he said. "The priorities have shifted since some of our last surveys away from trade or capital investment and more toward investment around the well-being of their workforce."

Given labour market experts predict that many of the jobs people will hold in the future haven't even been invented yet, investing in adaptable employees is good business sense, he said.

Companies around the world are expecting a high degree of disruption in their businesses, so the need to invest in the ability to change and be agile is really important. - Dan Leslie, HSBC Bank Canada's deputy head of commercial banking 

"Companies around the world are expecting a high degree of disruption in their businesses, so the need to invest in the ability to change and be agile is really important." 

Labour shortage a top issue for businesses

It's critical for Canada to invest more in retraining and "upskilling" or "re-skilling" workers, said Leah Nord, director of skills and immigration policy at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, which represents 200,000 Canadian businesses.

Every year, the chamber hears from members that labour shortages are at or near the top of the list of challenges they face.

"Right now, we have half a million job vacancies across the country, and we have record job growth," said Nord. With Canada's low fertility rate and high retirement rates, "this is not going to get any better."

Jobber

Nord said businesses do a lot to provide on-the-job training, but given that 98 per cent of Canadian companies are small- or medium-sized enterprises, they often have limited capacity to free staff up to train while also delivering their products or services.

The chamber is making a number of recommendations to the federal government ahead of the fall election, among them the need for policy — and funds — that support businesses to provide that training. Nord said that could take the form of tax credits or other incentives, such as a short holiday from paying employment insurance premiums for a new hire during their training period.

Not only is training and development key to solving labour-market and skills shortages, it's what employees are looking for these days, said Sara Cooper, vice-president of people for Edmonton–based company Jobber, which makes software for small business providers who work around the home, such as plumbers and lawn maintenance crews.

Training makes good business sense

"A lot of leaders are getting really smart about the fact that people are looking for development," said Cooper. "They don't necessarily want to spend a tonne of time in one role or focused in one area.… You need to speak their language and be able to provide them with the things that they feel they need to be successful, whatever that looks like."

Between offices in Edmonton and Toronto, Jobber has added 80 new workers in the past year. Cooper said the company has been able to attract workers with in-demand skills in part because "historically we've had a really good development program for those employees."

"When you're a career employee coming in on the tech side — a full stack developer, let's say — you go through a pretty thorough mentoring program with our senior developer."

Cooper said that senior managers are evaluated in part on how well they mentor and teach junior employees. Jobber has also created a full-time position for a career coach who will work with any employee who wishes to grow in their role with the company.

"Anybody joining Jobber at whatever level will be able to see what a clear career path looks like for them."

Giving current staffers new skills simply makes good business sense, she said.

"Rather than going out and competing with five other companies for that skill set, why not develop it in-house?"