It's never been a better time to find a new job — but do employers realize it?

Employment experts say job prospects in Canada are the best they've been in decades — but many businesses seem to have missed the memo. Labour shortages could cause significant operating difficulties if employers don't take proactive steps to not only attract new talent, but keep the staff they've got.

Facing labour shortages, experts say employers need to do more to attract talent and avoid costly turnover

According to an annual salary survey completed by recruiting company Hays, 63 per cent of employers expect the flourishing economy to boost their bottom lines in 2019. But less than a quarter plan to raise salaries more than three per cent. (Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock)

Job prospects in Canada are the best they've been in decades, employment experts say, but many businesses seem to have missed the memo.

According to an annual salary survey, 63 per cent of employers expect the flourishing economy to boost their bottom lines in 2019, but less than a quarter plan to raise salaries more than three per cent.

About 4,000 Canadian employers and employees responded to the 2019 Hays Canada Salary Guide. The online survey was conducted by recruiting firm Hays PLC in late summer and early fall of 2018, and has margin of error of plus or minus 2.19 per cent.

Three-quarters of employers said a shortage of skilled workers has heightened stress and workloads of existing staff.

That makes sense given that the national unemployment rate hit a 40-year low in November, and job vacancies — totalling 551,000 nationwide — are up in almost every province and territory.

"Jobs are pretty plentiful and we see that employers have really strong demand for workers," said Brendon Bernard, an economist at job-search company Indeed Canada.

Of course the situation isn't rosy everywhere. "In oil-producing provinces, conditions really haven't made a full rebound since the decline in oil prices," Bernard said.

But across much of the country, there are compelling signs that labour shortages will cause significant operating difficulties if employers don't take proactive steps to not only attract new talent, but keep the staff they've got.

The fear of moving jobs has gone away for most people.- Rowan O'Grady, president of Hays Canada

Indeed is hearing from employers about challenges filling roles, Bernard said. And both the Bank of Canada and the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses have noted labour shortages are becoming a problem for day-to-day business.

It's not just landing new hires that businesses need to worry about.

Rowan O'Grady, president of Hays Canada, said the survey also found almost 90 per cent of people are open to hearing about new opportunities.

"That's a testament to the confidence people have in the job market," he said. "It shows that the fear of moving jobs has gone away for most people."

Should you have to quit to get better pay, opportunity?

There's also a disconnect between the reality of a tight job market and Canadian business practices, said O'Grady.

"The one bit that doesn't actually make sense is the very conservative approach to salary increases," he said. "Only about 21 to 22 per cent [of employers] are planning on offering three per cent or more increase to their staff for 2019."

Five years ago, that number was around 42 per cent, he said.

That's puzzling, Grady said, given more than 90 per cent of respondents say they expect the economy to be the same or better than it was in 2018, and that more than half of businesses plan to add staff in the year ahead.

The Hays survey found that any increase in payroll budget is being spent attracting new hires, filling holes a company has today, instead of working to prevent future staff departures.

There's risk in that, said Bernard.

"One thing about the tighter labour market, it doesn't just mean that employers have to think about attracting new hires, but they also have to be cognizant that their current employees might have options outside of their workplace," he said. "So being competitive on compensation is important to retain your own workers as well."

Human resources departments can be too slow to switch to the "employee-centric" outlook needed in a booming job market, said Corey Phelps, associate dean of executive education at McGill's Desautels Faculty of Management.

"Organizations need to think about their value propositions for employees," he said.

Not just dollars

Salary isn't the only important piece of the puzzle, he said. Today's workplace needs to pay better attention to providing staff with work they find meaningful. 

"Millennials are very purpose-driven individuals," said Phelps. "They've seen their baby boomer parents, who went through 60-hour workweeks to climb the corporate ladder. They're saying, 'I don't want to do that. I want more work-life balance.'"

Our HR systems have been designed for previous generations. They're not working formillennials.- Corey Phelps, associate dean of executive education at McGill  

On average, millennials are less concerned with advancement and more concerned with growth, he said. Many like to do project-based work that allows for variety, and they value good company culture.

"Our HR systems have been designed for previous generations; they're not working for millennials," said Phelps.

"If we don't adapt our approach, we won't be able to attract these folks and we won't be able to keep them. And that's especially problematic in a tight labour market."

Aligning values

Laura Mindorff and her husband run two small businesses in Ottawa: a digital design firm and a software company. 

Though her current operations total just 13 people, she's done a lot of recruiting for people with in-demand skills, such as graphic designers and software developers.

"People want to work for companies where they feel their values are aligned," she said. 

Her efforts to retain staff range from things like biweekly one-on-one meetings, where "the employee gets to talk about anything they want," to fun traditions like "fantastic food Friday," with free breakfast in the morning and beer in the afternoon.

Chris Farley Ratcliffe, who works in non-profit management in Ottawa, has experienced the growing strength of the job market. After landing a six-month contract in early 2018, he started looking for permanent work again in September.

"There were very definitely more opportunities in the second half of the year," he said. "I felt more optimistic and I was doing interviews pretty well every week for maybe a month-and-a-half."

These included some for jobs he felt were "a bit of a long shot."

Oil and gas sector the big exception

But in Alberta, many are still unemployed or underemployed, said Tara Dragon, an HR consultant in Edmonton.

"There's lots of examples of people with professional backgrounds — engineers, geologists — who weren't able to find work in the oil and gas industry, and they've taken roles with less responsibility, less salary." 

As the founder of Work Evolution, a business that promotes flexible employment, Dragon said she encourages those people "to think unconventionally about their work circumstances."

That could mean working remotely for employers in other parts of country or even abroad.

But she also invites them to consider transferring their skills to up-and-coming industries, such as clean tech.

"If experienced people are willing to change their industry, maybe learn some new things, those roles are out there for them."


Brandie Weikle


Brandie Weikle is a writer and editor for CBC Radio based in Toronto. She joined CBC in 2016 after a long tenure as a magazine and newspaper editor. Brandie covers a range of subjects but has special interests in health, family and the workplace. You can reach her at