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Navigating the labour shortage

By Lori Karpman

With the economy bouncing back from the COVID-19 pandemic, the challenge now is finding competent and qualified staff.
With the economy bouncing back from the COVID-19 pandemic, the challenge now is finding competent and qualified staff.

With the economy bouncing back from the COVID-19 pandemic, the challenge now is finding competent and qualified staff. Heavily impacted industries such as travel, hospitality, and retail are still having the most difficulty with this task.

During the pandemic, Canada’s unemployment rate reached unprecedented highs. Additionally, the number of people looking to leave their existing jobs decreased with the uncertainty of finding alternative employment. It is not surprising this uncertainty still exists in the current marketplace, and as such, there has been a decline in the overall number of job applicants.

The loss of an employee, especially one in a position which requires training, can cost the company twice that employee’s salary to find and re-train their replacement. This proves it pays to invest in your current employees.

Businesses are also working harder than ever to attract new talent. Aside from a shortage of applicants, those looking to hire are seeing a lack of required skills, along with significant competition from other organizations.

According to the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), more than half of small- and medium-sized employers are struggling to find staff. With hiring difficulties projected to continue throughout 2023, the labour shortage will last for the foreseeable future.

In pre-pandemic times, there was a large group of people willing to work minimum-wage or hourly labour jobs, but these numbers have dwindled and left employers scrambling to fill these positions.

In some cases, financial support from the government is more than would be gained via employment. Many candidates are staying home and not returning to the workforce. On the other side of the issue, the number of qualified franchisee prospects has grown because just as many people have left their jobs to explore self-employment. As a result, the franchise industry is booming.

No matter the situation, it is important for businesses to implement certain strategies which will appeal to their current employees, as well as help attract new talent, to ensure they stay profitable during the current labour shortage.

Create a great corporate culture

Creating an environment where employees want to work is key to engaging and retaining top talent. Company culture plays a critical role in attracting and retaining employees. Nearly half of job seekers cite company culture as being very important to them when they decide on an employer.

The culture of the entire organization is set by its corporate leadership team and flows from the top down. Ideally, it moves to employees as well. When leaders create a positive environment for people to work and flourish in, not only will they be more loyal, but they will also go out of their way for customers. Additionally, it will attract fresh and new talent to the pool through a solid brand reputation.

Support your employees

Emphasizing communication and teamwork is of the highest priority. Employees are being asked to go beyond the call of duty and monitor customers’ compliance with government policies, as well as instituting additional cleaning and sanitizing. Franchisees need to ensure employees have the proper training, as this shows a candidate the company is willing to invest in them. They will feel supported and appreciated and perform at their best as a result.

Incentives for additional education can help prepare employees for their new roles and responsibilities and keep them employed with the company. Hiring from within, and providing training, is always a good practice.

Relax hiring criteria

Companies can try being more flexible with hiring criteria, in areas such as education or experience. Doing so will increase the number of applicants available for the position. Some companies have taken to hiring former inmates and providing them the chance to lead happy, productive lives. Taking steps such as increasing onboarding time, pairing new employees with experienced workers, and being open to remote work models will also increase the candidate pool.

Incentivize employees

Creating an environment where employees want to work is key to engaging and retaining top talent.
Creating an environment where employees want to work is key to engaging and retaining top talent.

Many employers are offering signing bonuses, financial assistance programs, and insurance plans, which are all helpful in attracting and retaining good candidates. Benefits for hourly employees can include anything from flexible scheduling and overtime opportunities to professional training and development programs. Some brands in the food service industry—which relies heavily on part-time, minimum-wage employees—are offering perks just for filling out a job application. Franchisees implementing these types of programs report they receive a higher number of better-quality candidates. Franchisees can also ask current staff for referrals and pay a bonus for each new employee they help recruit.

Industries with many entry-level positions are offering employment to younger people without any experience. They look beyond this factor and invest in skills and development training to help them in the position and beyond. Investing in employees is one of the strongest ways to ensure retention. A happy team can significantly increase a company’s bottom line.

Implement diverse and inclusive recruitment and hiring policies

Over the past year, the topic of diversity has taken centre stage. A workforce should reflect the diversity of the community where the business operates. Employers should acknowledge social issues, diversity, and inclusion are important to employees. This helps augment the corporate culture and makes the business somewhere employees want to work.

Acknowledge and recognize hard work

Employees like to be acknowledged for a job well done. It is essential to thank them for their contributions, regardless of whether they are being paid for it. This can be achieved in many ways and begins with a formal award and recognition program. Acknowledgment and recognition are impactful, as it is human nature to please and want to be praised. Making team members feel valued, even if it is just a public “thank you,” goes a long way towards engagement and loyalty.

Do a ‘labour check’ with franchisees

Investing in their education and training will allow team members to learn new skills and advance in their careers.
Investing in their education and training will allow team members to learn new skills and advance in their careers.

Franchisors should make sure franchisees support the corporate culture at the local level. Do they have a sense of the level of contentment and issues affecting their employees, and if not, where do they fall short? Is it a recruitment, training, or retention problem? It is important to measure employee satisfaction on a regular basis. By documenting and measuring employee engagement, you can see where there is room for improvement and if your programs are working.

Invest in frontline workers

When discussing job satisfaction and retention, the hourly workforce is often overlooked.  Employers should be paying better attention to the issues of this demographic which make up most of the workforce.

Employee retention begins with ensuring all employees feel supported, respected, and valued in their roles. It is important to address the specific issues frontline workers face to ensure they are satisfied in their jobs, not only for their prosperity, but also for the success of the company.

Focus on the existing talent 

Businesses that are successful in the long term understand the employer/employee relationship is a partnership and not a hierarchy. Investing in the team’s education and training not only aids in reducing costly turnover, but it also supports recruitment. It is an opportunity to allow team members to learn new skills and advance in their careers. Every employee plays a pivotal role in a business’s success. It is critical employers realize placing value on employee satisfaction will benefit both parties.

Be transparent

Employees like to be “in the loop.” For example, if there is a new program coming out, share it with employees and solicit input. This lets the team know their employers value their opinion and respect them. Dropping a new procedure on employees last minute does not communicate respect. Treat employees like family and share good and bad news with them.

With open workplace communication, leaders can better learn what is important to their employees. Each individual is unique and brings different skills to the table. Successful employers realize their most important asset is not the real estate they own, but their workforce—their “human capital.” Invest in them and they will invest in you. This creates a win-win situation for all. Establishing relationships across all levels of employment and emphasizing transparency from the start will help owners and management better understand what drives their workforce and retain talent.


The best way for businesses to navigate a tight labour market is to ensure they keep the talent they do have by employing retention and training programs. Giving employees the training, knowledge, and support they need to be successful will help them to level up into new roles with even greater responsibility. This also leads to businesses being able to avoid having unfilled positions and decrease the risk and amount of employee turnover.

Lori Karpman is the founder of Lori Karpman & Company (LKC), a Montreal-based franchising consultancy. For more information, visit 

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