Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

When the first students arrive for class in September at Conestoga College’s skilled trades campus, they will quickly discover a unique learning environment.

 

“It’s going to be a living lab,” says Suzanne Moyer, Conestoga Dean of Trades and Apprenticeships, describing the 322,000-square-foot state-of-the art learning facility taking shape at the former site of motorhome manufacturer Erwin Hymer on Reuter Drive. “The infrastructure is such that areas are exposed so that students can see how the building was built. You can walk into a classroom and actually see the duct work.”

 

Suzanne says the building, the first part of a multi-phase plan for the campus to house all of Conestoga’s skilled trades programs, has been designed with a very ‘open and visible’ concept towards learning with 150,000-square-feet of space dedicated to shops and labs.

 

“There are lots of windows so if you’re walking through the building, you can see what’s happening in the shops and other students can also see what’s going on,” she says, noting the campus will heighten the college’s successful approach of providing hands-on and practical learning. “Conestoga College has always been an advocate for skilled trades and in the last 15 years or so, we’ve really grown the amount of programming we have in the skilled trades.”

 

The timing for this major move couldn’t be more critical since the need for skilled trade workers only continues to increase in Canada, with a potential shortage of 60,000 workers expected by 2025. Currently, an analysis of 56 high-demand trade sectors nationwide indicates a shortage of approximately 10,000 skilled trades workers – which could be as high as 100,000 if all 250 regulated trades in Canada are considered. As well, the federal government says approximately 700,000 trade workers in Canada are likely to be retired by 2028.

 

“In part, we’re definitely responding and aware of that need both regionally, provincially and federally,” says Suzanne, noting a key goal was to consolidate the programs currently offered among the college’s seven campuses at one central location. “With that you get more efficiencies, and you also get all the students in different trades working more closely together. There are many positive things that will come out of this by having everyone located in one area.”

 

She admits there have been hurdles, including the pandemic, supply chain issues and labour disruptions, that delayed the project after Conestoga College purchased the site in 2019.

 

“But we’ve continued to adjust and amend the schedule and work our way through,” says Suzanne. “For example, our HVAC, millwrighting and electro-mechanical programs were supposed to move into the building in September but now they are going to move in next spring and be ready for students in September 2023.”

 

However, this September the new campus will become home to several of Conestoga College’s many skilled trades programs, including electrical, plumbing, machining, carpentry apprenticeship, as well as its one-year multi-trade program which allows students to sample four trades.

 

“The students are very excited because it will be a new and full-service campus,” says Suzanne, referring to the features provided which include a library, food services, counselling services, academic supports, and student success advisors.

 

She says the timeline for when the rest of the campus will be developed depends on funding. The first phase has come with a price-tag of $110 million.

 

“A lot of factors play in to all that. But we definitely have the space to grow,” says Suzanne, referring to the 42-acre site.

 

She notes the reaction from the business community has also been very positive and says Conestoga College welcomes any opportunity for partnerships.

 

“We have all kinds of opportunities to partner together. We work with organizations to make sure it is a good partnership,” says Suzanne, adding financial and in-kind donations are important but there are other ways businesses can be involved. “For those not in the financial position to donate, we have program advisory committees for every one of our programs where members of industry provide us with guidance in terms of what’s needed in industry from our graduates.”

 

She says these committees meet twice a year and provide valuable input to ensure Conestoga College is offering the best programming possible.

 

“We’re always looking for volunteers to serve on our advisory committees and work with us to ensure our graduates are industry ready.”

 

To find out more, visit Conestoga College Skilled Trade Campus.

 

Drawing supplied by WalterFedy/Moriyama & Teshima Architects

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The number of employees returning to their workplaces has been steadily increasing since the start of the year, according to stats recently published in the Globe & Mail. However, as the months pass not all may be thrilled with the notion of going back to the office.

 

“We are hearing mixed reviews about returning to work and that has to do with both employee preference as well as the expectations that businesses put in place prior to the pandemic,” says Peninsula Canada Account Manager Victoria Vati, adding that if a business didn’t have a working from home policy in place prior to COVID-19 not many put one in place when staff began staying home. “This created confusion for staff who have been productively working from home for the last year or two, and now they are expected to return. Many of them feel as though it is not necessary to be there in-person and are pushing back.”

 

Victoria, an HR expert, says it’s imperative that workplaces ensure they have something in writing outlining what the expectation is for employees when it comes to returning to the workplace.

 

“It can be tricky to navigate this area completely,” she says, noting that some businesses have found it more lucrative to have employees work from home removing the financial need for physical office space. “Others may opt for a hybrid solution because they have the resources to accommodate and support both in-house and remote workers.”

 

When it comes to hybrid working, the JLL (Jones Lang LaSalle) Workforce Preferences Barometer report released in June notes that from among just over 4,000 office workers surveyed in 10 countries – including Canada - this type of work model was expected by 60% of respondents, with 55% already utilizing a hybrid approach.

 

The report also indicated that 73% of these office workers are going into the office at least once a week, an increase of 5% compared to March of 2021.

 

To ensure a hybrid model works, the report states that six out of 10 employees expect to be supported with technology and financial assistance for expenses linked to remote work and outlines the need for a ‘holistic’ approach to management since 25% of those surveyed felt isolated from colleagues, with 55% stating they missed the social interactions of the workplace.

 

“Many employees are mentally, physically and emotionally drained from the last two years,” says Victoria, adding that many employers are also feeling ‘burned out’ trying to juggle the day-to-day issues of operating a business amid financial worries and ongoing labour shortages. “The burnout is a little different for them, but they are facing it as well.”

 

She says not overworking their employees and themselves is very important.

 

“Employee retention right now is key for all employers. It is important for employers to provide support to their staff in as many ways as they possibly can. If an employee now suffers from anxiety due to the pandemic and would like to work from home on certain days, the employer has an expectation to (within reason) explore options to assist that employee. If remote working is not possible, then providing the employee with resources and guidance on where to turn to for help is also very important.”

 

Working for an employer that focuses on their health has become very important to many, as outlined in the report which states 59% of employees expect to work for a company that supports health and wellbeing and now rank them as the second biggest priority, after quality of life and before salary.

 

“It is important for employers to evaluate and understand the needs of the business and weigh the pros and cons of remote working,” advises Valerie, noting the recent implementation of Ontario’s ‘Right to Disconnect’ legislation is a great way to build transparency and trust in these changing work environments. “By enforcing this and educating staff on what their rights are, employers can create a culture of excellence and finding what works for both the business and staff.”

 

Visit Peninsula Canada for more information.

 

 

At a glance (Source: JLL Workforce Preferences Barometer)

  • Hybrid work has reached an ‘optimal point’ – 60% of office workers want to work in hybrid style today and 55% are doing so already (These figures were about 63% and 50% a year ago).
  • 55% of employees alternate between different places of work every week (+5% vs. March 2021).
  • 73% of office workers are going to the office at least once a week (+5% vs. March 2021).  26% exclusively in the office.
  • Six in 10 employees expect to be supported with technology and financial assistance for expenses linked to remote work. Less than four in 10 currently benefit from these types of initiatives.
  • Enabling hybrid work shows your people that you are flexible and empathetic employer – This workstyle is especially appreciated by managers (75%), Gen Z (73%) Gen Y (69%) and caregivers (66%).
  • Only 48% of the workforce believe that their company is a great place to work today.
  • 38% would like to work in an office that is designed sustainably.
  • 27% could leave their employer because they do not share the values promoted by their company.
  • 59% of employees expect to work in a company that supports their health and wellbeing. This is now ranked as the second priority at work, after quality of life and before salary.
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The fallout from the Rogers outage continues to be tallied even as Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne prepares to appear before a parliamentary committee sometime this month to answer questions regarding this nationwide disruption that cost businesses thousands of dollars.

It’s been estimated, according to a recent article published by BNN Bloomberg, the Canadian economy took a $142 million hit when a major service outage July 8 affected more than 12 million Rogers’ customers.

 

The system-wide cable internet and cellular network failure, which included subsidiary brands of Rogers Wireless, Fido, Cityfone and Chatr, was blamed on a maintenance update in its core network and in some cases, repairs took several days before all services were fully restored. Rogers has agreed to compensate customers affected by the outage, but many have now been left wondering what the next outage could bring?

 

We asked two local IT experts – Five Nines IT Solutions President & CEO Douglas Grosfield and MicroAge Kitchener owner Robert Jolliffe – to share their thoughts on what businesses can do to ensure they are better prepared for the next big outage.

 

Q. What can business owners do to prepare for potential interruptions?

 

Robert: First, they should determine if they can run their business off their cell phone by hot spotting. During the Rogers outage, some people had their business internet and cell phone both with Rogers, and that left them without a back-up option.  

 

The second thing a business can do, is have two internet connections on your business premises from two different providers. If your business is at a certain size and an extra $100 (or less) a month for a backup internet connection is a negligible cost, the second connection is worthwhile investment. Even if you are not using it, you have the insurance of a back-up connection.  

 

The backup could even be the lowest, cheapest connection available, which will get you through a day or two until your main connection is back up. It’s also worth considering whether one of your connections should be wireless; Starlink is an example of wireless internet connection.  

 

Douglas: Assuming a business is using proper perimeter security devices, most industry standard firewalls will easily support having two ISP connections and will use them in many ways.  You can have them active / passive, meaning if your primary connection fails, all traffic fails over to the secondary connection with nearly zero disruption, and fails back to the primary once it again becomes available. You can also do load balancing or ‘bond’ them such that traffic with different priorities (i.e., data vs voice) uses the appropriate connection and thus has no adverse effect on the other.  Check if your cellphones support dual SIMs; many do nowadays.  You can then have a SIM from more than one cellular provider and ensure reliable communications. An alternative would be to pay for minimal ‘lines’ for key or critical users, at a secondary provider, so that a manual swap of SIMs can get them back in business quickly.  Note that these things mean a different number, but in the short term can provide connectivity and communications.

 

Q. What would be the simplest piece of advice you could offer businesses when it comes to navigating these interruptions?

 

Robert: Have a backup plan. If there's a fire in the building, you have an evacuation plan. If the if power goes out, you know what you're going to do for your business. Treat internet failure the same way.

 

Douglas: Do not allow yourself to believe you are exempt from disruptions like this. Talk to a trusted technical partner about your options and like anything else, take the first step to achieve a goal.  If as a business owner your primary goal is not to protect that business, its clients and staff, its data, and systems, and to ensure the business continues to thrive and grow, then you’re doing it wrong.

 

Q. Do you see further interruptions like these becoming more commonplace and can they be prevented?

 

Robert: They won't become more commonplace, but they will be more severe because more of our society is connected to the internet now.  

The big telecom companies are going to put in more fail-safes, so the likelihood of it happening again is low. But as time goes on and society becomes more connected to the internet the likelihood of it causing disruptions is higher. 

For example, during the Rogers outage many people couldn't pay for things. 

Another example would be grocery stores that have digital price tags on the shelves. They're using this so that they can push price changes out from their head office, electronically across all the stores. So just imagine if you needed an internet connection for that, and all the prices get set to zero and then the internet went out?

 

Douglas: Yes, these companies are in business to generate profit, no surprises there.  Their investment (in the absence of legislation or other government-mandated investments) in the backbone networks and infrastructure, and the security of same, are going to be tightly budgeted and controlled.  Add to this the fact there is little competition and low likelihood of that changing anytime soon, and the communications landscape in Canada is ripe for this sort of disruption.  Toss in external issues such as cyber-attacks, and we can see that our current highly vulnerable national communications infrastructure needs overhauling and investment.

 

Don’t get me wrong, you can protect yourself by doing the right things regardless.  Endpoint protection, firewalls, redundant Internet connections, mobile device security, VPNs, encryption, etc.  All readily available technologies, inexpensive and simple to implement and manage with expert help and advice.

 

Q. Are businesses too reliant on one telecommunications company to deliver their service?

 

Robert: I would say that, yes. If a business only has one internet connection which is connected to an almost consumer grade firewall, then they are too reliant on one company. At first, if that internet connection goes down, that business is okay to go a day without internet. Then they grow to a size where it’s not okay to go a day without internet, but they don't change anything.  There are higher end firewalls that will allow them to mesh two connections, from two providers. So, if the main internet connection goes down, the other one from the other provider kicks in seamlessly. Employees and users on the network won’t even notice a disruption.  

 

Douglas: The communications market in Canada is radically different than in the U.S., for example, where there are far more options. However, having more providers requires subscriber density, meaning how many paying customers per square mile for example, to support the infrastructure.  For example, cellular service across a large geographic area requires mostly the same infrastructure (i.e., towers, networks etc) for 10 clients as it would for thousands or tens of thousands.  Without enough subscribers, it is cost prohibitive. Relying on one provider is very risky and given the simplicity and low cost for redundancy in this space, is both a mistake and a missed opportunity for businesses.  Business as usual when your competitors are not, is a huge advantage and costs very little.  Spread out your risk, eliminate by using proven technology to do so.

 

 

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An apparent cooling down in Canada’s real estate market due to higher inflation does not mean the future isn’t bright, say local experts.

 

In its latest report released June 15, the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) indicated that despite national home sales falling 8.6% on a month-over-month basis in May, the number of newly listed properties was up by 4.5%.

 

As well, while many Ontario markets saw a dip in prices from April to May, the average price of a home remains 40% higher than before the COVID-19 crisis and numbers were up in many markets in northern and southern parts of the province, and eastern areas of cottage country.

 

The actual (not seasonally adjusted) national average home price, according CREA, was a little over $711,000 in May, up 3.4% from the same time in 2021. However, the report notes this average is ‘heavily influenced’ by sales in the GTA and Great Vancouver markets.

 

Also, according to BDC in its June Monthly Economic Letter, the slowdown in demand and affordability issues hurting markets are counter-balanced by a growing population and many first-time buyers in the market. These buyers account for nearly half of all home buyers and the growth prospects remain high for this group.

 

 

We reached out to the Cambridge Association of Realtors to get its take on the situation, especially how it pertains to commercial real estate. Thanks to Association President Val Brooks, of Royal LePage Crown Realty Services, and her colleague, Rick Lewis, a registered Commercial Realtor with ReMax Twin City Realty Inc, for their input for this Q&A:

 

 

Q.  The rise of inflation, now at 30-year highs, has sparked a market slowdown for home buyers. Do the same factors come into play for those seeking commercial property?

 

A. Inflation has affected all ‘real estate’ markets in general. Factor in interest rates, economic conditions, government policies and of course market changes. It is true that commercial properties and their market values react to broad economic conditions.  Take gas prices as one example affecting the commercial industry on whole. Business statistical data for Canada shows that we have 1.2 million business in Canada of which 97.9% are small business owners who employ between one to 99 staff members.  Of that, 48,325 Canadian establishments exported goods with a value totaling $471.9 Billion. Gas prices are more likely a concern than the housing market slowdown. With home prices stabilizing, it might be seen as a good indicator for businesses overall as they try to keep and attract new employees.   

 

 

Q. As home prices rose as the COVID crisis began, currently standing at 40% higher than before the pandemic, was there a similar trend for those seeking commercial property?

 

A. The commercial landscape during the COVID-19 crisis in 2020 did slow down as we adapted to pandemic safety concerns and policies handed down by our governments. However, the market adjusted quickly to the supply and demand by the consumers looking for homes, and subsequently, commercial properties. As real estate prices rose quickly in Toronto, so did the demand on our residential and commercial properties; commercially speaking with such keen interest in the areas of warehousing, storage facilities and transportation.  Because we offered quick access to Toronto, Hamilton, and London via our highway access, along with good lease rates and purchase power, the tri-cities were attractive to those businesses dealing with higher cost in the Toronto area. COVID-19 affected the commercial landscape with a pent-up demand and low inventory complicating your ability to satisfy our clients’ needs.    

 

 

Q. What are some of the trends – especially right here in Waterloo Region - have you and your colleagues been seeing? Does it differ compared to other places like Toronto?

 

A. With more opportunity in the single-family housing market one of the main trends was moving out of Toronto for a larger home with land within the Waterloo Region area. More bang for the dollar, which in-turn pushed our pricing upward. Our rural properties became popular with work from home employees, wanting the country living and open spaces away from the congestion of Toronto living.

 

 

Q. Where do you think the market will be a year to five years from now?

 

A. There will be a continued growth in population in our tri-cities. Focus will be shifted to new developments putting greater emphasis on a more employee driven atmosphere and amenity options. Currently, 300,000 square feet is under construction in Guelph. It will help elevate some of the interest, however, this will not be enough to satisfy the current demand, so we see this being an issue for a few years to come. Large to small businesses will be needing more industrial spaces between 2,500, 5,000 & 10,000 square feet.  We are, and have been, an area of choice that will continue to evolve over the next five years with new exciting and innovative ideas in building construction. We will see subleasing becoming more popular as businesses deal with ownership retirement.  The hope is new businesses will come to the forefront that will assume or expand on these retiring trades.  In general, commercial real estate is on a substantial uptick right now. With interest rates still low, employment at all-time high, the economy is rebounding at a fast pace, and occupancies are at an all-time high meaning low available commercial inventory. It’s hard not to remain confident that for the foreseeable future, commercial real estate is going to remain on an upward trajectory here in the tri-cities.

 

 

Q. What advice can you offer at this point to those seeking to buy/sell a home or commercial property?

 

A. Real estate has been a very stable and good investment with a long track record.  We may see a more stabilized market for a few years with home prices keeping pace with the marketplaces. Commercial real estate will have low inventory both for sale and for lease. Land will continue to be valuable with greater importance on environmental ideology and new construction and innovation will be the future of the commercial landscape. Is it time to sell or stay the course? That has always been the million-dollar question that has us all guessing on the future, however bright.

 

For information, visit the Cambridge Association of Realtors

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As travel levels continue to ramp up towards even higher volumes than they were before the world shutdown due to COVID-19, the Region of Waterloo International Airport is ready to handle any surge.

 

“We’re probably in the top-10 of busiest airports in the country as far as movements but we’re also in the top-20 when it comes the number of passengers,” says Chris Wood, General Manager of the Region of Waterloo International Airport, noting he expects the airport will soon see that passenger ranking move up to the 12th to 13th busiest spot.

 

Chris says the airport is expected to welcome at least 500,000 passengers in 2022, which is slightly less than its initial projection due in big part to the arrival of the Omicron variant but expects to see that number double next year.

 

“We should be able to hit those numbers, with everything being equal,” he says, adding the opening of its new 12,000 square-foot domestic arrivals building in April – part of its $35 million Airport Terminal Expansion Project – is a continued sign of the airport’s importance to the economic vitality of the Region.

 

“Every thriving community has a big, bustling airport. Why should we be any different?” says Chris. “You can’t go to a world-class city anywhere without an airport being part of that.”

 

Currently, WestJet and Flair Airlines are providing a bevy of flights from the airport to a variety of destinations including Calgary and Edmonton, AB, Cancun, Mexico, Winnipeg, MB, and Vancouver and Victoria, B.C. In fact, this summer Flair has unveiled several additional destinations including Charlottetown, P.E.I., Deer Lake, N.L. and Montreal, QC, starting in July.

 

“We do expect Sunwing to return in the winter,” says Chris. “We also have an agreement with Pivot Airlines and expect them to arrive later this fall, but we don’t have a firm date yet.”

 

He says Pivot will offer several flights daily to Ottawa and Montreal, providing a key component in building the airport’s business clientele.

 

“We’ve kind of morphed into a low-cost carrier dream airport because we have a very large and affluent population that has been starved of non-stop service for many years, and we also have a very affluent business community,” says Chris. “But we haven’t really catered as much to the business community.”

 

He’s very candid when it comes to the struggles the airport has had trying to attract more business flyers, noting that smaller business owners and entrepreneurs are more cognizant of their finances so utilizing a low-cost carrier makes sense to them.

 

“But if you’re not paying for your own ticket, it’s more difficult to get people to use the services that are currently here,” says Chris, adding frequent flights a day out of Pearson Airport offered by larger carriers like Air Canada are more convenient for many business travellers.

 

Currently, he says at least 80% of travel at the Region of Waterloo International Airport is leisured based adding the split between business and leisure travel was about 50/50 when American Airlines offered nonstop flights to Chicago from 2011 to 2016.

 

“We saw a lot of people going to Chicago and beyond for business. But if the right type of service comes in, I think the business community would definitely use it,” says Chris, adding Pivot Airlines will be a great draw and caters to the business community thanks to its multiple flights daily to various business locations.

 

When it comes to attracting airlines, he says the process is extremely difficult since airlines must be very strategic where they place their inventory.

 

“The airlines get it. They know there is an opportunity here, but they also know there is more of an opportunity at Pearson,” says Chris, adding carriers like Flair that are destination-based and not interested in connections or using a hub and spoke model, can be easier to attract.

 

“But we’re happy to talk to any airline about service and we’ve got the facility now that can handle them,” he says, crediting Waterloo Regional Council for its continued support. “We can ultimately contribute to the bottom line of the Region.”

 

Chris says the ‘gold standard’ for a regionally operated airport in Canada are Kelowna and Abbotsford, B.C., and that Regional of Waterloo International Airport is quickly approaching those levels.

 

“It’s a model we hope to achieve and we’re getting closer,” he says.

 

To learn more, visit Region of Waterloo International Airport.

 

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The pain at the pumps consumers continue to feel as prices climb above $2 a litre won’t be dissipating anytime soon, warns Dan McTeague, President of Canadians for Affordable Energy.

 

“The problem is a shortage of oil,” says the former Liberal MP and long-time energy ‘watchdog’.

 

He says Russian President Vladimir Putin knows the world is vulnerable right now and has made it geopolitical and weaponized oil supplies in Europe through the invasion of the Ukraine, which has only magnified the issues already facing the other two major energy links in the world – namely Canada and the U.S. and OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries).

 

“We’ve completely destroyed the Canada/U.S. relationship,” says Dan, referring to the political decision to ‘kill’ proposed pipelines in North America and notes that OPEC, which cut oil production to keep prices at a certain level, is looking towards Asia and markets of the future.

 

As well, factor in a slowdown of world economies during the two years of the pandemic which resulted in a decrease in the demand for oil, resulting in oil companies putting a stop on drilling for new supplies or slowed, or even stopped, some refineries. Now, these same companies continue to have a tough time ramping up production to keep pace with demand.

 

It’s a dire situation, which Dan says he discussed in the fall of 2021 in an interview with Driving.ca, long before Russia launched its Ukrainian invasion. In the article, one of the things he points to is the introduction of the Trudeau government’s Clean Fuel Standard (CFS) which he bluntly referred to as ‘another tax dressed up as a clean-air credit’ that is going to cost average Canadians even more at the pumps. The CFS is set to be introduced Dec. 1 of 2022.

 

Taxes, of course, remain one of the largest components of fuel prices in Canada accounting for at least 34% of the average pump price.

 

Breakdown of gas taxes in Ontario:

  • Federal excise tax - 10 cents/ per litre
  • Federal carbon tax - 11.1 cents/ per litre
  • Ontario tax - 14.7 cents/ per litre
  • GST/HST - 22.9 cents/ per litre.

This translates into a total amount of 58.6 cents/per litre worth of taxes in Ontario, on top of the base price of which near the end of May was 139.6 cents/ per litre. On average, this is in line with many provinces, except for Alberta which is 29 cents/per litre and Manitoba at 43.8 cents/per litre. Overall, Canadians are paying an average of 51.2 cents/per litre of taxes.

 

But is there a solution? Ideally, supply and demand would have to become more balanced which could be accomplished in several ways:

  • The war in Ukraine ends and countries begin buying Russian oil again;
  • OPEC ramps up oil production;
  • Other oil producers increase production;
  • People start driving less;
  • Society as a whole embraces greener energy solutions that don’t involve oil.

 

Dan believes the world is still a few decades away from turning fully away from oil and natural gas.

 

“We’ve got to get real about building pipelines again,” he says, adding we need to be more realistic when it comes to our current energy needs.

 

He says as it stands, there is not much business operators can do as they continue to deal with disrupted supply chains and expenses, especially around transportation costs.

 

“I think food costs are the next shoe to drop because of course fuel affordability is gone, and with it now comes everything else,” says Dan.

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Pain points throughout Ontario’s economy are impairing business operations, and now consumers are feeling the pinch too. 

 

The frustration is palpable. From the grocery store and trucking industry to their pocketbooks, Ontarians are experiencing the very real consequences of labour shortages, global supply chain disruptions, and inflation. 

 

The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) recently released the sixth annual Ontario Economic Report (OER) providing regional and sector-specific data on business confidence, policy priorities, and economic indicators, which together provide a unique view on the hurdles ahead. 

 

“Ontario began to see some positive momentum in 2021 thanks to progress on vaccines and reopening. Business confidence, GDP, and employment growth are trending upwards after record lows in 2020. However, the road ahead remains uncertain for businesses and households as labour shortages, supply chain disruptions, and inflation are hitting home,” said Rocco Rossi, President and CEO, Ontario Chamber of Commerce. “A staggering 62 percent of sectors are facing labour shortages in Ontario and expect to continue facing them over the next year. This is having real-life consequences on the cost of living, service delivery, and product availability.” 

 

“Our small business Members here in Waterloo Region have proven their strength and resilience over the past two years. Business confidence is rising across the province but for many the additional strain on operations as a result of new variants and additional restrictions continues to dampen their recovery,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher.

 

This year’s OER reveals the impacts of the pandemic continue to disproportionately impact small businesses, organizations led by women and people with disabilities, with the hardest-hit sectors being businesses in the arts, entertainment, and agricultural sectors. 

 

“We are seeing a domino effect of structural issues. Jobs are going unfilled, demand is outpacing capacity, and these issues are driving up prices for consumers and uncertainty for businesses,” said the report’s co-author, Claudia Dessanti, Senior Manager, Policy, Ontario Chamber of Commerce. “Two years into the pandemic, there is light at the end of the tunnel, but we need a long-term plan that will provide stability and lay the groundwork for economic growth.”

 

Key highlights of the report include: 

  •  1. In terms of regional economic outlook, Kitchener-Waterloo-Barrie is looking at jobless rate of 4.5 percent in 2022, compared to 7.3 percent in 2021. Also, it shows an employment change of 5.4% this year compared to 3.7 percent in 2021. The population change of 1.5 percent in 2021 is expected to remain the same in 2022. Confidence in Ontario’s outlook by Region indicates 38 percent of respondents in Kitchener-Waterloo-Barrie are not confident, compared to 23 percent (39 percent remained neutral). Also, 52 percent of those asked said they agreed there was a labour shortage in Kitchener-Waterloo-Barrie, while 29 percent said they disagreed. 
  • 2. Overall, 29 percent of Ontario businesses are confident in Ontario’s economic outlook in 2021 (compared to 21 percent the year prior), and 57 percent are confident in the outlook of their own organizations (up from 48 percent). 
  • 3. Most sectors (62 percent) are facing labour shortages and expect to continue facing them over the next year. 
  • 4. Inflation of raw material and transportation costs at the producer level is affecting consumer prices, which rose 3.5 percent and is expected to rise another 3.5 percent in 2022. Ontario’s year-over-year housing price growth was above 30 percent in December 2021.
  • 5. Small businesses are more preoccupied with cost relief measures such as business taxes and electricity rates, while larger businesses are more focused on long-term infrastructure, regulatory, and workforce development issues.
  • 6. All regions except Northeastern Ontario saw positive employment growth in 2021, though several regions have yet to offset the major job losses seen during the first year of the pandemic.

 

Read the report: https://occ.ca/oer2022/

 

The sixth annual OER offers unique insights into business perspectives across Ontario. The report is driven by data from our annual Business Confidence Survey (BCS) and economic forecasts for the year ahead. The BCS was conducted online from October 6 to November 19, 2021, attracting responses from 1,513 organizations across Ontario. The OER was made possible by our Landmark Partner, Hydro One, and Research Partners, Golfdale Consulting and Bank of Montreal. 

 

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From food and clothing to automotive parts and medical supplies, the list of freight transported by truckers to keep our supply chain operating is practically endless.

 

But keeping those trucks rolling since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose a major challenge to those who make their living in this sector.

 

“This has definitely created the greatest turmoil in the industry,” says Rena Hawkins, President of Cambridge-based H-Four Logistics Inc. “But there have certainly been other challenges.”

 

Part of the transportation sector since 1994, she has seen many changes in her industry, including a growing shortage of drivers which has continued to worsen for the last decade as many choose retirement. According to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, Canada is currently facing a shortage of 20,000 drivers.

 

“Being a truck driver is not an easy job and it’s not an attractive job for someone with a young family,” admits Rena, noting good wages can be made but that restrictions regarding hours of service and flexibility makes it tough to earn a higher salary.

 

“They’re not working 40 hours a week; they’re working 60 to 70 hours a week to make that money which makes it hard for young people to want to get into this industry.”

 

Factor in the pandemic, and she says the situation has only grown more difficult, especially in the beginning when carriers she booked travelled to the United States only to discover shipping and receiving facilities closed due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

 

“The driver could wind up sitting there for 24 hours waiting to offload or upload. Who’s going to pay that driver? Is it me, my customer, or the shipper?” says Rena, noting a lot of negotiating and understanding was needed on all sides to find solutions. “Everybody really had to pitch in and help cover those costs for the drivers, so they weren’t out of pocket because obviously it wasn’t their fault.” 

 

She says that issue sorted itself out once the summer months arrived and transmission levels lowered.

 

“Now, the biggest challenge of course is the vaccination mandate, which means there are now 10% of drivers who are not in the market and can’t cross the Canada/U.S. border,” says Rena, adding even though that number doesn’t appear to be high it will impact the supply chain. “Imagine if you have a company with 100 employees and are relying on those people to make sure your operation is running smoothly. Even if you lose 10 of those people, you’re going to have glitches in that operation,” she says. “It’s a very fragile balance.”

 

Rena says a possible solution could surface in which non-vaccinated truckers deliver to the border where they upload or unload to vaccinated Canadian drivers in the U.S., noting a premium rate of pay could be offered as compensation to the drivers who must spend more time south of the border. 

 

“However, that is just going to inflate the transportation rates right across the board, not even factoring in the cost of fuel,” she says, noting the recent protest in Ottawa has clearly put a spotlight on the whole industry.

 

“I feel whatever side of the fence you sit on regarding the mandate issue, there seems to be a lot of appreciation now for the drivers and the work they do,” says Rena. “I think people are really seeing the impact they have on our daily lives.”

 

She hopes a ‘silver lining’ could emerge from this turmoil by inspiring a new generation of drivers to enter the industry. 

 

“They seem so excited about these truck drivers and I’m hoping new drivers will start looking to get into the market.”

 

In terms of the future, Rena remains optimistic of what’s down the road for her sector.

“We’re pretty creative people and will find solutions that will keep things moving,” she says, adding examples of ‘pivoting’ seen in the hospitality and restaurant sectors early in the pandemic is something her industry can take to heart. “They kind of laid the groundwork on how to get creative and make changes to have a sustainable business so our industry can look at what they’ve done and try to apply that kind of thinking to our business.”

 

Learn more about  H-Four Logistics.

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While working remotely has created new opportunities for many businesses since the start of the pandemic it has also put a spotlight on some concerns employers must now address as they continue to adapt to the seemingly relentless presence of COVID-19.

 

Among these is time theft, an issue which human resource experts say was already well known in workplaces but has become more apparent since employees began working at home.

 

Time theft occurs when an employee receives payment for time that is not spent doing their work, which could include conducting personal activities during work hours or taking long lunch breaks without telling their managers.

 

While there doesn’t appear to be any clear financial amount this type of activity costs Canadian employers, according to the accounting software site QuickBooks, in the U.S. time theft costs employers at least $11 billion annually.

 

“In certain scenarios, where trust was not there to begin with when employees were in the office and proper procedures were not in place, this remote element has just amplified the gaps between employers’ expectations and employees’ responsibilities,” says Kiljon Shukullari, a Certified Human Resources Leader at Peninsula Canada. 

 

His colleague, Peninsula Canada Account Manager Victoria Vati, agrees.

“For real time theft to occur the action must include an overtly fraudulent act, such as altering a timecard, punching in for each other, failing to record or falsely recording hours on an attendance management system,” she says, adding much of this type of time theft can be alleviated by software and refers to a system from BrightHR her company relies on.

 

This system, which does have a ‘check in and check out’ component, also includes an array of features to assist employees and employers regarding scheduling and accessing various documents. “It’s software that can assist in everyday HR related practices,” she says.

 

But there are a variety of aspects to consider when it comes to time theft, which requires setting out proper remote working policies.

 

“Other activities, such as surfing the internet too much, to running errands during the day can be alleviated by proper oversight from management and setting proper expectations in terms of production from employees,” says Victoria, adding after nearly two years into the pandemic many employers should now have these policies in place. “But it’s a matter of how you monitor that without micromanaging because that trust goes both ways.”

 

She says transparency is key when it comes to creating policies to manage a remote workforce.

 

“If that wasn’t there to begin with, now is a good opportunity to implement them,” says Victoria.

 

Kiljon agrees and says establishing those ‘core’ documents – including contracts and employee handbooks – form the basics of a good working relationship which could reduce the threat of time theft.

 

“It’s easier when an employer and employee start a relationship. It’s a lot harder when employees are already part of the business,” he says. “Existing employees is where we spend a lot of our attention to begin with because for a new employee and employer they are already starting on the same page.”

 

Kiljon says when it comes to introducing new work policies, communicating them well and acknowledging potential concerns from employees is a good approach. 

 

“The employer needs to be open to that two-way conversation with their employees and then the policy can be updated because at the end of the day, the employer does have the legal right to introduce any type of policies,” he says, adding some may be more straightforward, while others could appear harsh. 

 

Whatever the policy, Kiljon says being open to questions from employees and setting the right expectations and clarifying what the outcomes are for non-compliance can go a long way.

 

“Those are key things,” he says.

 

Trust, says Victoria, is at the core of the employment relationship.

 

“A company should start with the position of trusting their people,” she says. “It’s all about fairness and consistency in how employers treat their employees.”

 

To help the situation, both say providing the necessary supports to employees who may be struggling working remotely is a great way to build a better and more productive working relationship. This could include helping them setup a backdrop for virtual meetings, or ‘recreating’ their office space at home by providing them with more equipment, such as a second computer screen.

 

“Employers need to be aware of the contexts their employees are working in at home,” says Kiljon, adding encouraging employees to communicate via video rather than an email or text is a good way to maintain a more personal approach to contact. “Also, congratulate them for their achievements and help them through their difficulties and always keep an open-door policy. These are things that will help.”

 

For employers looking to introduce or revamp work policies, Victoria recommends using the services of an expert will help them in the long run.

 

“Employers are expected to be HR and health and safety and labour law experts, and it’s next to impossible,” she says. “If you can get free advice that’s great, but ultimately if you want to make sure your business is 100% protected it’s best to speak with a professional, even if It’s a consultation.”

 

For more information on Peninsula, visit https://peninsulacanada.com

 

Tips to prevent time theft: 

  1. Install time and attendance software 
  2. Keep open lines of communication between all staff
  3. Improve accountability at work
  4. Be understanding
  5. Do away with paperwork (handwritten timesheets) 

 

A few facts from Benefit Canada:

  • A study by Aternity Inc. found overall productive decreased 14% between Feb. 3 to July 9, 2020, as high levels of remote work were maintained due to the pandemic. 
  • According to the 2021 Benefits Canada Health Survey of approximately 1,000 workers, 66% said they feel less connected to their co-workers and employers since switching to a remote system.
  • 73% of respondents said they weren’t satisfied with their jobs, while 74% said they have a high level of stress. 
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Providing the necessary supports to businesses is vital, especially as work continues to rebuild our economy in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic by getting people back to work. 

 

One way to ensure the economic development of Canada is well positioned is by creating more opportunities for entrepreneurial newcomers who can not only help fill existing labour shortage gaps but work towards reshaping our business landscape by opening new businesses and assisting existing ones in need of solid succession plans as aging business owners look towards retirement. 

 

With that in mind, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce has developed a policy through consultations with Members via its MasterMind series entitled ‘Promoting the need for Entrepreneurship Immigration’ which calls for the Federal government to examine ways to ensure that a percentage of the 1.2 million immigrants slated to be brought to Canada by our government over the course of the next three years be linked to the entrepreneurship stream.

 

The policy won approval at the recent 2021 Canadian Chamber AGM & Convention which attracted more than 250 Chamber policymakers and officials nationwide virtually over a two-day period. The approved policy now becomes part of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s mandate when it lobbies at the legislative level with the Federal government.

 

“This policy will target individuals who are entrepreneurs and business builders who come to Canada with money in their pockets to not only invest in this country, but more importantly to invest in their own businesses here that will create opportunities for other Canadians,” says Cambridge Chamber President and CEO Greg Durocher. “We’re always looking for companies that want to expand into Canada, but why don’t we look for people who want to bring their businesses and business ideas here? It’s a market that’s been left untapped and we hope this policy receives serious consideration at the Federal level.”

 

An estimated 181,000 of small business owners according to a Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) survey conducted last year said they were seriously considering closing due to the pandemic and at least 200,000 were facing closure. Coupled with the fact many small business owners on the verge of retirement have not created viable succession plans – a CFIB survey conducted in 2018 indicated more than $1.5 trillion in business assets will be in play over the next decade as 72% of small business owners leave their business – there exists many potential opportunities for new immigrants with an entrepreneurial spirit.  

 

A current shortage of workers, especially in the construction, manufacturing, and hospitality industries, has set the stage for skilled immigrants in these fields to enter the market and possibly use their entrepreneurial know-how and practical work experiences to create new opportunities in these sectors. 

 

The Federal government has been attempting to make strides in addressing the ongoing shortage of skilled workers in Canada which has been only amplified by the pandemic. 

 

In February of this year, it announced an invitation to approximately 27,300 workers with Canadian experience to apply for permanent residence. This followed on an earlier federal announcement in the fall of 2020 to bring to Canada an additional 1.2 million immigrants over the course of the next three years: 401,000 in 2021; 411,000 in 2022; and 421,000 in 2023. 

 

While this influx of newcomers is welcomed and needed considering there are growing concerns centred on Canada’s falling birth rate, a more focused approach to create an ‘economic immigration policy’ that not only provides ample assistance to newcomers but also ensures the needs of existing Canadian groups, including Indigenous entrepreneurs seeking their own opportunities, are not negatively impacted, would be beneficial.

 

“We have an immigration policy that is geared towards our economy. It’s a point system, largely generated on the skills newcomers bring to the table,” says Greg, referring to education and various qualifications. “The problem is there are holes within the economic system that are not being filled.”

 

He says the current system often seems to focus on professionals, such as doctors, lawyers and engineers but needs to be widened. 

 

“We need to look at people who have businesses and would like to move them here have business ideas and the skills to develop those ideas in Canada,” says Greg.

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