Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

A shortage of rapid antigen screening kits threatens to hamper the ability of local Chambers to assist Waterloo Region businesses stay safe over the next few weeks, says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher.

 

Since the start of April, the Cambridge and Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chambers have been working with Health Canada and the Province to provide free self-screening kits to small and medium-sized businesses throughout our Region.

 

Since that time, more than 700,000 of the kits have been distributed, not to just to Chamber members but all SMEs with less than 150 employees. The goal of the program was to identify asymptomatic or presymptomatic individuals from spreading COVID-19 in the workplace, at home and around the community.

 

“Up until December, everything was running very smoothly, and people were ordering kits and they were keeping workplaces safe,” says Greg, noting a provincewide shortage has altered that at very critical time for businesses. “There are a number of workplaces that are in a very vulnerable situation that are essential and it’s very important they screen employees every couple of days. You can’t have an essential business close their doors for 14 days.”

 

The Chamber initiative, which began as a pilot program and was quickly implemented provincewide by other Chambers through the Ontario Chamber of Commerce network, is waiting on a delivery of approximately 150,000 of the kits to fulfill orders placed by businesses through its Chambercheck.ca portal.

 

“But the fact of the matter is we have at least 1,600 businesses who are now waiting in the cue to get their kits and we don’t have any,” says Greg, noting that leaves approximately 70,000 employees in Waterloo Region without access to rapid screening until at least mid-January.

 

“Even when we receive our order that still won’t be enough because to test that many employees we need at least 280,000 kits,” he says, explaining proper screening requirements call for employees to use the kits at least twice a week.

 

The Chamber’s last order of 50,000 kits – a week’s supply - arrived Dec. 6 and was quickly allocated to businesses or re-allocated to other businesses (including restaurants) if they were not picked up. 

 

“We know there are many workplaces that have to have them,” says Greg, adding a decision by the Province to distribute a single box of screening kits containing five tests to students over the Christmas break may not have been the best method. “It’s a great idea, but not enough has been handed out. Five tests aren’t enough and there isn’t a real strategy attached for their use and to even retain some tests for going back to school. Just handing them out is no real strategy.”

 

He says distributing through workplaces has been a great way to reach more people. 

 

“We’ve always said from the very beginning of this to the Province that about 63% of Ontarians are in workplaces so if you make rapid screening kits available for employees you have the potential to reach 63% of the population,” says Greg, noting not all employees may wish to take part in the screening program unless it was mandated. 

 

He says it would have proven cheaper for the Province to distribute more screening kits to workplaces and even curtail the resale of the kits for exorbitant amounts online.

 

“The BESTWR (Business and Economic Support Team of Waterloo Region), along with the Chambers, started encouraging the Province to do rapid screening in May of 2020 and it took them almost a year to get out and going because we stepped up to the plate and said we would do the pilot program,” says Greg. “We literally wrote the playbook so they could pass it on.”

 

He says running the free screening program through the Chambers has also ensured all the necessary safety protocols are followed.

 

“We have all the safeguards in place to make sure these kits are being used correctly and continue to be accessible to answer any questions if businesses have had a problem,” says Greg. “It really has been a seamless program, but now we’ve seen an unnecessary pause during the most critical time for these businesses.”

 

For information, visit Chambercheck.ca

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The ability for businesses to be flexible and creative is pivotal when it comes to finding ways to combat ongoing labour shortages, say local employment experts.

 

“Those who can bend will find they can sustain themselves and grow and those who will not bend, I think they’re going to find it very difficult to maintain their productivity and business size,” says Charlene Hofbauer, Executive Director of Workforce Planning Board of Waterloo Wellington Dufferin. “I think growth will be a real challenge for them.”

 

Her organization promotes workforce development by working with the community to address issues surrounding labour market trends, such as the apparent disconnect between job seekers and potential employers.

 

“The longer we go through this (pandemic), the more I think we’ve entered a workers’ market,” says Charlene, noting many local employers are struggling to find employees. “There isn’t an industry right now that isn’t hiring.”

 

Although the unemployment rate recently dropped in Waterloo Region to 5.2%, she says there exists a ‘small pool’ of talent for jobs that are very specialized. And as of Dec. 3, just over 5,400 jobs remained vacant in our region, approximately 1,500 of those in Cambridge.

 

“That’s a lot of jobs,” says Charlene, noting poaching employees becomes an issue for those seeking specific talent.

 

She says there is a big need for frontline employees in industries that often rely on short term trained workers – including restaurants, manufacturers, healthcare, and construction.

 

“But our tech and engineering firms are desperate for more senior talent,” says Charlene, adding those with seven years or more of experience are in high demand right now. “They can easily find a junior person, but they can’t find a senior person.”

 

When it comes to finding talent, she recommends employers look at other avenues, rather than the more traditional ways they’ve relied on in the past.

 

“Even temp agencies are struggling to have a decent size pool of talent right now,” says Charlene, adding her organization can connect employers with potential sources that can aide in their search. “We can connect you to whoever we can think of that’s local to you and can work to connect you to a bigger network.”

 

Among these connections is Employment Services - YMCA of Three Rivers Waterloo Region, which can introduce employers to talent by utilizing mentorships, job shadowing and financial incentives providing they are willing to engage in on-the-job training.

 

“It’s critical to reduce the number of resumes that an employer will be looking at on a weekly basis,” says Van Malatches, Supervisor of Employment Services – YMCA of Three Rivers Waterloo Region, noting many companies are receiving between 25 to 200 resumes every week. “I don’t know how many employers have the patience to engage in that.”

 

He says his organization can help employers ease that burden by connecting them to viable candidates.

 

“We have a pretty good feeling of who we are referring and often have worked with that candidate from three days at the least, to three months at the most,” says Van. 

 

He believes employers who concentrate on the ‘soft skills’ and can provide training will have an easier time finding people, especially when it comes to hiring newcomers, rather than an employer who is simply looking for a ‘body’ to fill a position.

 

“Newcomers don’t want to be taken advantage of and want to have that opportunity. It’s understanding the cultural shock the newcomer may be facing, and being patient with that,” says Van, adding being authentic in their approach to acknowledging the issues a newcomer is facing will go a long way. “For a newcomer, they are so vulnerable with the experience and cultural changes they are facing. If an employer steps up for them, that’s what’s going to keep the retention and longevity.”

 

In general, Van says employers who can be more accommodating, not to the point where it’s compromising their business, will be successful at attracting and retaining employees.

 

“There is a lot of different nuances out there that have contributed to people ghosting employers because other options are coming up,” he says, adding transportation and childcare issues can play roles in the decision to changing jobs.

 

Given the opportunity, Van says he would like to see employers in various sectors work collaboratively when it comes to sharing potential talent.

 

“I would like to see those resumes pooled together somewhere where everybody could have access to them,” he says, adding the creation of a central ‘hub’ - taking confidentiality into consideration – would be beneficial to the overall job market.

 

As well, Charlene says connecting with local post-secondary institutions is another avenue employers can take when searching for talent and that even providing summer placements to high school students can also set the stage for future growth.

 

She believes a ‘multi-pillar’ approach is the best to solve our current labour shortage.

“We’ve got to do many different things,” says Charlene. “We can’t rely on any one thing as our solution.”

 

For more, visit https://www.workforceplanningboard.com or https://www.ymcacambridgekw.ca/en/index.asp

 

In terms of advice, Charlene says employers should consider the following:

 

1.  Check what you are paying. “When it comes to those key roles you’re stuck on and hire consistently for, know where you stand,” she says, adding local job boards can offer a great snapshot. “Figure out where you are on the spectrum for that job and know what ground you have to make up. And if you’re already paying well, maybe there’s something in the background you have to look at.”

 

2. Look at your job posting. “We’re seeing many job seekers who won’t apply because the posting is without any basic information,” she says. “Where is your company? What are the hours? What is the pay? What does the job look like? You would be surprised how many postings don’t answer these four basic things, so people don’t apply. I think what job seekers are looking for now from potential employers is openness, honesty and that transparency.”

 

3. Look at who is not coming through your door. “Be really honest with yourself. If you never see any women or newcomers apply, why is that? Who can you connect with so you can start seeing these applicants? There are so many local groups you can connect with.”

 

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An ongoing labour shortage continues to hamper Canada’s economic recovery in wake of the pandemic.

 

In fact, recent research published by the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) indicates that 64% of Canadian business says labour shortages are limiting their growth.

 

The BDC also reports that 55% of Canadian entrepreneurs are struggling to hire the workers they need and as a result, must now work longer hours themselves and delay or even refuse orders they can’t fill. As well, more than a quarter say they are having a difficult time even retaining current employees.

 

This news doesn’t come as a surprise to Mike Jennings, President of the Cambridge-based digital marketing agency MoreSALES, who has been keeping close tabs on the latest trends as employers in all sectors deal with continued labour shortages.

 

“The whole interview process is reversed right now. People aren’t coming in to interview for a job, they’re interviewing the company to see if they get to hire them or not,” he says, adding those in the skilled labour category are in very high demand.

 

According to CPA (Chartered Professional Accountants) Canada, Canadians in general have changed throughout the pandemic. While some decided being locked out of work provided them with the ideal motive to retire, at least 20% of the thousands who lost their jobs have changed sectors looking for work in places that not only may pay more but provide them with opportunities for advancement.

 

“A lot has to do with the culture of the company,” says Mike, noting surveys targeting millennials shows that flexibility at work and potential opportunities for nurturing and advancement tops wage expectations in terms of importance. “I think the smarter companies get it and those that are smart hire well will do well.”

 

He says more flexibility in terms of hours and the ability to work from home is key when it comes to attracting new talent, especially parents looking to return to the workforce following paternal leaves.

 

However, Mike knows this isn’t always the case for many companies, especially those in the manufacturing sector.

 

“If you’re a machine shop you can’t be all that flexible with your hours,” he says, adding in this case having an up-to-date website is vital since potential talent will do their research before submitting a resume. “If you’re thinking of working for a company that’s progressive and is going to pay well, you’re going to look at their website. But if that website hasn’t been touched in years and there is nothing about the employment situation or the culture of the company, then you’ve got a problem.”

 

As well, while social media is a great way to promote your company or business and attract potential talent, Mike encourages companies to be very strategic in their approach.

 

“It really depends on the company. If you’re a B2B company, I wouldn’t waste a lot of time on Instagram or Facebook,” he says. “I would focus more on LinkedIn or YouTube video clips outlining what the working environment is like at your company.”

 

He says connecting your staff on LinkedIn is a great way for potential employees to get a ‘sneak peek’ at your workplace.

 

“It will give them a sense of what kind of people they could be working with,” says Mike.

 

Visit https://moresales.ca to learn more.

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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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Physical distancing and thoroughly washing your hands are ways for the general public to battle the spread of COVID-19.

 

For manufacturers looking to find ways to help fight the battle by retooling their operations to create much-needed medical supplies such as masks and face shields, collaboration is the key way says Steve Mai, CEO and President of Eclipse Automation, one of many local companies stepping up to the plate.

 

“It really helps if you build networks,” says the Eclipse founder. “Don’t work in a bubble, get out there and do it.”

 

 

The Cambridge-based company, which has been an industry leader in custom automated manufacturing equipment for 20 years, recently inked an agreement with Harmontronics Automation in China to manufacture, sell and distribute its automated N95 vertical flat fold respirator mask production line system in North America. As well, Eclipse also signed an agreement last week with Irema Ireland to access its N95 and FFP2 mask product designs and technology, including respirator designs, specifications, and manufacturing process for exclusive use in Canada.

 

These agreements will provide Eclipse the opportunity to rapidly create automation systems to support the design and assemble these important medical supplies, plus pave the way for a domestically produced N95 respirator.

 

Ultimately, Steve has a goal to produce vital life-saving protection products domestically.

 

“We shouldn’t be losing sight of the fact that we have a definite problem in quality of what is coming in through the supply chain,” he says. “I want to know there are masks produced in this country that have every element of the supply chain controlled.”

 

He admits the overall process has been taking place at a slower pace than he’d like, taking into consideration the strict regulations in place to have a mask receive NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) approval, but notes Eclipse has not lost sight of  its end goal to ensure these supplies get into the hands of those who need them most. According to a recent media release, Eclipse expects to be first-to-market domestically by early July and plans to ramp up to make one million units per week.

 

“This is what we do for a living, this is not a secondary thing we’re trying to get into,” says Steve, describing the company’s decision to enter the battle against COVID-19.

He says the company, which employs approximately 800 people among its locations in Cambridge, U.S., Europe and China, has used a foundational approach by building on its core competencies to reach its goal.

 

He recommends other companies wishing to retool should consider doing the same.

“They’ve got to be careful not to overextend themselves and stay with what they know and focus on their core competencies,” says Steve, adding working with others is also important.

 

“We’re learning about a completely different network than we’re used to,” he says. “I’m seeing people sharing their ideas and being quite open.”

 

Since Eclipse undertook this major endeavour back in March, Steve says he has connected with many businesses that he has never had contact with before and expects to see these new relationships only strengthen.

 

“There’s some decent networking that’s going to come out of all this,” he says, describing the numerous phone calls he has had with various business leaders. “It’s really been amazing. I can’t wait to meet them in person.”

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I am a small business owner based in Cambridge, Ontario.  Along with my partners, we operate two manufacturing operations employing a total of about 25 people.

 

I am proud of all of the response of our political leaders to this crisis on all levels – local, provincial and federal.  They have taken a sober and analytical approach to the immediate needs of the citizens of this country.

 

Their willingness to commit funds, resources and support to our front line workers, small businesses and all in need will get Canada through this ordeal.

 

As a business owner, my top priority is always looking ahead to determine how I can not only succeed; but avoid unexpected disruption to my team; and minimize our potential for risk of any kind.

 

This is where I think the business community needs more support from our leaders.

 

The question of when we should re-open for business is open for debate.  The leaders in Canada, USA and abroad have differing opinions on this matter. 

 

There is only one question on my mind – what is required for me to do business in a way that will be safe for my team, clients and supply chain?  This is the question that must be answered prior to our return to regular business.

 

There is no doubt in my mind that the scientists of the world will determine when it should happen; using the tools and expertise available to them.  It brings me comfort to know that our Canadian politicians are being guided by science in their decision making process on these issues.  

 

However, there is another component to this decision that I think we are neglecting.  Whenever we return to work, it will be to a new business landscape.  There are new risks, new considerations and a higher expectation from the community for business owners to provide a safe working environment.  As a community, we need to determine what will be required to have in place prior to a return to “regular” business. Until we have a vaccine / “herd immunity”, do workers require masks to be safe?  Do we need to require hand sanitizer at entry points to work areas and require all team members to use?  In Taiwan, there are some common practise expectations for citizens that have allowed them to maintain a very low infection level of COVID without restriction on children being at school, or businesses operating normally.  What can we learn from their example that can help us to prepare to resume our work?

 

If Toyota, Honda, or even my business or a local hair salon re-opened in two or four weeks without making any adaptations to how the risk of COVID transmission is controlled; how will we have made progress against this disease?

 

The saying “time heals all wounds” has never resonated with me.  Time doesn’t heal all wounds; but time does offer us the opportunity to prepare for what is coming at  us next.  We know that the economy will have to resume prior to COVID being completely eradicated.  The question is – what will we as a community do to mitigate the risk of another peak of infection as we make that return to the new normal?

 

There is no question that children will have to return to school; I am less concerned about when that happens than I am about what the plan is to keep them safe and healthy once they are there.  We have the example of how Taiwan has made this work; kids wearing masks and having plastic cubicle style dividers between desks during meals.  Will we use this time to learn from their example and adapt our own action plan for what is required to be in place prior to resuming their in class education?  My hope is that we do. 

 

The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce is starting to gather experts and business owners to start this discussion.  I am proud to be a part of this discussion; I look forward to learning and planning together with others to determine how we as a business community can plan to get back to business.  This is new territory for everyone – consumers, business owners, employees, politicians, government, youth and seniors.  If we can agree on the supports that are needed to re-open in a safe manner, the time spent until that happens can be spent planning and making the required changes to how we do business to accommodate the new reality we live in.  If as a community we neglect this opportunity to plan and adapt, we are destined to repeat this cycle of the pandemic again in the not so distant future.

 

This is work that our Chambers of Commerce, professional associations, industry associations, regulatory bodies or governing standard registrars, perhaps the labour unions and school boards are well poised to do.  They have connections to business in their sector, a communication channel with a broad range of companies in a vertical market, and the support of their members.  If we all pressure these organizations in our own industries to get to work on our behalf, we can start planning for the future.

 

It’s time to change the question from “when can we re-open” to “what is required for a safe and healthy re-opening in my workplace to get through this crisis”?

 

Let’s get to work.

 

Kristen Danson

Managing Partner

MitoGraphics Inc. / Swift Components Corp

519 240-4205 Direct

 

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Brian gets a tour through Veriform Inc in Cambridge, with President Paul Rak. He even has a job interview for a Welding Position. Don't get too excited, he failed miserably. However, Paul was a great host for our Member Profile Blog, hope you enjoy meeting Veriform.

 

 

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