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70 per cent of Canadian businesses struggling to find skilled talent, most seek to recruit outside of Canada.

79 per cent said the pandemic changed the way they work, and they need more employees with IT skills

TORONTO, Aug. 31, 2021 – The COVID-19 pandemic compelled many Canadian businesses to adopt a digital-first mindset to survive, but most organizations are struggling to find workers with the skills necessary to compete in today’s marketplace, find a new poll conducted by KPMG in Canada. As well 52 percent of those surveyed are not confident they will find people with the skills we need and will consider recruiting outside Canada

The pool found that nearly 80 per cent of the businesses surveyed say they need more workers with digital skills, however, better than two thirds are having trouble finding and hiring needed talent. This inability to find or retain talent was identified as the number one threat to their growth prospects. This has led to employers seeking help outside of Canada.

Canada is not alone in this trend as nearly seven in 10 (69 per cent) of employers globally are struggling to find workers to hire for specific positions, marking a 15-year high, according to the ManpowerGroup.

Specifically, employers are struggling to fill positions in areas such as operations and logistics, manufacturing and production, IT, digital transformation, and sales and marketing, according to the survey of 42,000 employers in 43 countries from ManpowerGroup, the third largest staffing agency in the world, in June of 2021.

“Despite the impact of the pandemic on global unemployment we are already seeing signs of a much tighter labour market in many countries,” says Jonas Prising, ManpowerGroup chairman and CEO. “Companies have increasingly specific skills needs as transformation accelerates making the need to find new ways to close the inequity gaps that exist at the intersection of race, gender, education and economic status even more urgent.”

Canada’s labour minister believes the country is well poised to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic by relying more on new immigrants to help alleviate the labour shortage, according to the immigration minister, Marco Mendicino.

The trend for Canadian employers to seek help from a global IT force is underway with recruiting ramping up by searching broadly worldwide to relocate employees or outsourcing digital work to firms and agencies abroad.

“We are seeing a trend for Canadian Main Street businesses seeking help to get noticed online and secure a digital footprint with almost panic level urgency”, says Ryan Valley CEO of Neptune Agency Inc. a digital transformation agency in Ottawa Canada.

Valley says the urgency isn’t just coming from Canadian small and medium businesses though. “We are seeing requests from the USA, Europe, and even Australia as the tech giants crowd the digital transaction space. Everyone from small boutiques, other advertising agencies and even a drycleaner. If Amazon decided they wanted to take over the dry-cleaning industry tomorrow they have the capital, infrastructure, human resources, and digital footprint to make that happen almost immediately so these small businesses feel panicked and want to transform and dig their digital heels in very fast.”

Notable survey findings include:

  • 79 per cent said the pandemic changed the way they work, and they need more employees with IT skills
  • 69 per cent said they plan to hire more staff over the next three years
    • 24 per cent ranked cyber/information security as the top skill they need to hire
    • 20 per cent ranked data analytics/analysis as the top skill required
  • 68 per cent of businesses said they are having a hard time hiring people with the skill sets they need to grow
  • 52 per cent are not confident they will find people with the skills we need and will consider recruiting outside Canada
  • 89 per cent are investing in developing their workforce’s skills and capabilities

“The pandemic clearly provided a catalyst for many businesses to accelerate their digital strategies,” says Armughan Ahmad, President & Managing Partner, Digital at KPMG in Canada. “But implementing these strategies is becoming more difficult, as the competition for digitally-skilled talent is accelerating globally.”

“To address this, companies are looking inward for solutions, and upskilling their existing workforce to become more digitally focused. They’re also starting to recognize micro-credentials to help expedite the upskilling of their employees. But for many businesses, these won’t be enough as they need to innovate and re-think their business models, which will also require access to global talent to fill highly specialized roles,” he adds.

A majority (82 per cent) of the more than 500 business owners surveyed from across Canada said they need to become a much more digitally integrated company, while 85 per cent are increasing capital investment in buying new technology. Roughly 77 per cent said the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated their plans to digitize their operations, and 76 per cent of companies said they view technological disruption as more of an opportunity than a threat. 

“Canadian businesses understand the power of technology and most have been making the necessary investments to digitize their operations,” says Mary Jo Fedy, National Enterprise Leader for KPMG in Canada.  “The next challenge is ensuring they have the talent to use these new digital tools. While having the right technology is important, it’s only effective if your team possesses the skills to leverage it.”

Canadian companies are also working with outside parties to digitize their businesses.

  • 73 per cent are using or plan to use products or services from online platform providers
  • 63 per cent are looking to bring in third-party expertise and/or off-the-shelf software
  • 59 per cent are interested in partnering with an innovative start-up to bolster growth

About the KPMG Business Outlook Poll

KPMG polled 505 Canadian small- and medium-sized owners and decision-makers between August 6 and August 15. The online survey of business owners and decision-makers were all drawn from Delvinia’s premier online research panel, Asking Canadians, through the Methodify platform. Of the 505 survey respondents to the KPMG Business Outlook Poll, 35% are family-owned businesses and 74% are privately held, while 31% have revenues over $100 million annually and 24% have annual revenues between $50-100 million.


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