Labour Study

A new labour market study is confirming the old adage that: “good help is getting hard to find.”

Human Resource consultants Towers and Perrin released the results of their labour market survey of North American employees last week and the findings may make life even more difficult for IT managers trying to hire employees in an already highly competitive market.

Claudine Kapel, a consultant with Towers and Perrin in Toronto, said the study, entitled The Towers Perrin Talent Report: New Realities in Today’s Workforce, revealed that employers have their work cut out for them if they wish to retain current employees and attract new hires in the future and even in today’s poor economic outlook.

“The message for employers is that they shouldn’t be complacent,” Kapel said.

According to the survey which includes responses from nearly 800 Canadians, more than half (58 per cent) of those currently employed are “passive job seekers.” A passive job seeker are those who haven’t made a conscious decision to leave their job but are open to new employment opportunities, Kapel said.

“They are doing similar things as the active job seekers but are not as aggressive,” she clarified.

Such activities include checking electronic job boards, the papers and talking with friends or former co-workers who’ve left their organization, Kapel explained. Active job seekers are those who are seeking an alternative to their current employment.

Workers Are Getting Mobile

The study also found that “mobility has lost its stigma,” said Kapel.

Canadian workers no longer believe that short terms of service with organizations are a career barrier. The idea taught in schools, in previous generations, that one should work for an organization and get a few years under one’s belt is no longer true, explained Kapel.

The study results indicate that 65 per cent of Canadian respondents believe there is no longer an appropriate amount of time that one should remain with the same company. Only eight per cent cited three to five years as appropriate.

Part of the reason workers no longer feel loyalty to their organizations is that: “they’ve learned from the downsizing of the past and that’s a really important message as companies that are downsizing are saying that they are still hiring for other parts of their business,” Kapel said.

That message could have a serious consequence for the IT industry. For example, as Nortel Networks of Brampton, Ont., was laying off 21 per cent of its workforce due to the economic downturn in the United States, company officials said despite the 30,000 layoffs in what were less profitable business operations they would be hiring in future growth areas.

Beyond the concerns of immediate hiring loom the larger issues of an organization’s ability to develop and retain skilled employees. For example, 52 per cent of the 34-50 year old age group interviewed as part of the Towers Perrin report are passive job seekers and this is a concern because it is from this age group that organizations will be drawing their future leaders, Kapel pointed out.

Worse still for Canada’s employers, the future pool of skilled labour is quickly drying up with the ageing boomer population expected to leave the workforce in the next 10 years. Employers will need to take proactive action now to meet these issues. Kapel said.

“The idea of a one-size-fits-all for rewards programs no longer works,” Kapel said. “Companies will need to find out what are the drivers that make for more flexible packages.”

In Canada while pay and opportunities for advancement were the top two in terms of what attracts workers to an organization, some of the other drivers include benefits, vacation days and flex hours or career-life balance, said Kapel.

“It’s a challenge for employers as you are doing more or less what you can do to be more accommodating,” she said.

Interestingly among workers 18-29 years old, learning and development opportunities were among the top five and that’s a key issue from an IT perspective, Kapel said.

In this study what came out on top is that the high-technology industry has a good reputation and paid a lot of attention to worker-related issues because it already faces many of the challenges that are now confronting other Canadian industries, Kapel said.

Free Agents

However, all of the future labour market predictions are not gloom and doom for potential employers.

Towers and Perrin’s study indicates that employees 55 and over responded the most often as classifying themselves as “free agents” – those moving quickly between and within companies where their skills are in highest demand.

Kapel speculated that perhaps this reflects those who are planning on taking early retirement but not wishing to necessarily to leave the workforce will remain as consultants. However, these older “free agent” workers will require even more flexibility in their employment agreement with prospective employers, Kapel suggested.

“It’s a positive sign for employers faced with a coming labour crunch,” Kapel said, “but the challenge for employers is how do they harness that kind of talent.”

The study was conducted in Canada and the United States during April and May 2001. A total of 5,707 randomly selected employees from companies with more than 500 employees responded. Of those, 765 were Canadian. Three-quarters of the respondents were from Fortune 1000 companies, and nearly 30 per cent of the respondents were managers.

Towers Perrin is a management and human resource-consulting firm with Canadian offices in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. Towers Perrin can be reached at