Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

Portions of the provincial government’s 2024 budget and the economic impact they will have on businesses are being welcomed by the Ontario Chamber network, but a call remains for more to be done.

 

“This budget takes important steps in the right direction, and at a time when Ontario faces declining productivity, we hope it sets the stage for bigger leaps forward,” said Daniel Tisch, President and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) in a release. “The government has been bold in attracting investments and committing to build infrastructure to create jobs – and we need similarly bold investments in our people, public institutions, and communities.”

 

Building a Better Ontario, tabled by Minister of Finance Peter Bethlenfalvy on March 26, is the Province’s largest spending budget coming in at $214.5 billion.

 

While it featured no tax hikes or tax breaks, it did include substantial funding for infrastructure and highways, something Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher says is vital to the business community.

 

He notes Minister Bethlenfalvy’s mention of the long-awaited Highway 7 project between Kitchener and Guelph, as well as improvements along the Kitchener Line to facilitate future two-way all-day GO Train service, should bode well for local businesses.

 

"This shows these projects are still a priority for this government and that’s what we have been fighting for in this region for a very long time,” he says, adding a $1.6 billion investment also announced for the new Municipal Housing Infrastructure Program to help Ontario build at least 1.5 million new homes by 2031 also comes as good news. “The cost of housing is very concerning to businesses because they can’t attract the brightest and best people to come and work here if housing costs are beyond the pay-scale they are willing to offer.”

 

Housing Crisis

 

However, Greg questions whether the financial commitment outlined in the budget will be enough towards creating a long-term solution to the housing crisis.

 

“The reason housing and rent costs are through the roof is because the supply isn’t even close to the demand. Everybody needs to understand the price of any commodity is based on supply and demand,” he says, adding the Province should amend the Planning Act to give municipalities the broader ability to accelerate the housing construction process. “I also think the Federal government needs to weigh in as well if they are truly concerned about it and reach out to municipalities to see what areas of responsibility the feds can have, perhaps on the subsidized housing side.”

 

Greg says costs surrounding new home construction, which rose during the pandemic, have also not decreased despite the fact supply chain issues have improved. “You can’t ask a builder to build a home for less than what it costs them.”

 

The budget also outlined an additional $100 million investment through the Skills Development Fund and an additional $49.5 million over three years for the Skilled Trades Strategy in hopes to address the growing skills gap in Ontario, something both Greg and the Chamber network were pleased to see.

 

“We have the country’s No. 1 skilled trades school (Conestoga College Skilled Trades Campus) right here in Waterloo Region, so this announcement is very important,” he says. “What is even more important is that Cambridge has such a density of advanced manufacturing and each one of those facilities need skilled tradespeople to work. Investment in skilled trades is certainly paramount for us and it should be paramount for the province and the entire country.”

 

And while the Chamber network applauds the Province’s $546 million investment in healthcare access, Greg admits he’s disappointed the budget contains only an overall 1.3% hike for health care.

 

“I really believe this government is working hard behind the scenes to try and figure out where the money will be best spent because with a system like health care, which is the biggest piece of the puzzle here in Ontario, you can’t just keep dumping in money. You have to rationalize where we’re putting it,” he says. “Our healthcare system is a rationalized system where we get what we need, not what we want. So, let’s make sure we get the money directed in the right places to ensure our health needs are taken care of.”

 

Click here to read the budget.

 

 

Several positive measures in the budget to help the business community:

 

  • Housing through an investment of $1.6B for the new Municipal Housing Infrastructure Program and an additional $625M towards the Housing-Enabling Water Systems Fund to build roads, water and infrastructure needed to enable Ontario to reach its goal of building at least 1.5 million new homes by 2031.
  • Workforce development by continuing to address skills gaps in critical sectors of the economy through an additional $100M investment through the Skills Development Fund, and an additional $49.5M over three years for the Skilled Trades Strategy, supporting programs that reduce stigma and attract younger Ontarians into skilled trades.
  • Healthcare access through a $546M investment expected to connect 600,000 underserved Ontarians with access to primary healthcare teams of doctors, nurses and professionals, and the opening of a new medical school at York University to improve the pipeline of family doctors.
  • Mental health, addictions, and homelessness through an additional $152M over three years towards supportive housing, $396M in mental health supports through mobile health units, and $60M to Indigenous mental health.

 

As the government enters the second half of its mandate, the OCC urges action to support:

 

  • Business competitiveness by improving access to private capital and credit for small businesses, developing an employee ownership policy framework, and supporting greater business adoption of co-operative conversion.
  • Interprovincial trade by signing mutual recognition agreements and/or unilaterally recognizing standards in other parts of the country, where appropriate, to promote trade and labour mobility.
  • Post-secondary institutions through aggressive investment to create a financially sustainable and globally competitive post-secondary education and research sector, aspiring to have the best-funded system in Canada.
  • Energy infrastructure by investing in generation, transmission, and distribution to support expanded charging infrastructure and address expected electricity shortfalls.
  • Climate resilience through a climate adaptation and mitigation plan, with strategies that value nature and ecosystem services, and support the federal Task Force on Flood Insurance and Relocation.

 

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) has emerged as a double-edged sword in the realm of cybersecurity, offering immense potential to bolster defenses and creating daunting challenges that can exacerbate vulnerabilities. As businesses and organizations increasingly rely on digital infrastructure and data-driven processes, the role of AI in cybersecurity becomes crucial.

 

Historically, the term ‘artificial intelligence’ was first coined in the mid-1950s during a workshop held in Dartmouth by John McCarthy, a U.S. computer scientist, but the concept had already surfaced in 1921 when a Czech playwright introduced the notion of “artificial people” in a production entitled Rossum’s Universal Robots.

 

“AI has been around for a long time and has just scaled to what it is today, and is definitely something businesses are catching on to,” says Nick Lewis, CEO and Director of ShockproofIT, referring to AI and the issues surrounding its use. 

 

On the positive side, AI is now a daunting ally in the fight against cyber threats due to its ability to process vast amounts of data at lightning speed which enables AI-powered systems to accurately detect anomalies and patterns indicative of malicious activities. Machine learning algorithms can analyze historical data to identify evolving attack courses, allowing for proactive defense measures. 

 

“AI can really speed up the process and can look at the path of an infection from the root file all the way up to the end user,” says Nick. “AI can help investigate that path and how it’s happening, locating where the broken or infected link is so you can troubleshoot further.”

 

Insights offered for emerging threats

 

As well, AI-driven threat intelligence platforms can provide real-time insights into emerging threats, empowering organizations to stay one step ahead of cybercriminals. And for those who’ve already experienced an attack, it can also provide a detailed report of the incident for auditing purposes.

 

“AI can help you provide some verbose notes and data for creating reports about any attacks,” he says. “It can help you build that out.”

 

On the negative side, the proliferation of AI also introduces new challenges and risks to cybersecurity as cybercriminals continue to increasingly harness AI-powered tools and techniques to launch sophisticated attacks that can evade traditional security defenses. 

 

“Cybercriminals can analyze and collect data much quicker now and identify other avenues and trajectories of attack,” says Nick. “Criminals can also create new and sophisticated, and original targeted phishing attacks that wouldn’t otherwise be possible without the help or aid of AI.”

 

As well, AI can also assist cybercriminals in creating malware that contains new vulnerabilities and then bypasses detections, he says.

 

Barrier lowered for novice hackers

 

Couple this with the fact the democratization of AI technologies has lowered the barrier to entry for cybercriminals, enabling even novice hackers to leverage AI-driven attack tools with devastating consequences, means even more threats for businesses. 

 

To combat potential threats, Nick recommends businesses conduct thorough research when it comes to boosting their cybersecurity systems.

 

“You have to do your research so you can make an informed decision before you implement anything, especially something like AI,” says Nick, who also recommends talking with someone who is knowledgeable when it comes to AI-powered systems. “Talk to a professional, or someone who has been using it for a long time in many different markets and knows it from a core fundamental aspect.”

 

But more importantly, he recommends having a security professional audit the needs of your business to ensure you implement any AI property, safely, and effectively.

 

“How does your organization and your day-to-day operations work? What do you do and don’t do? What kind of logistics are going on?” says Nick. “From there, you can build a solid plan based on those things.”

 

 

Tips for leveraging AI in business cybersecurity:

 

Understand your cybersecurity needs: Before adopting AI solutions, assess your organization's cybersecurity posture, identify key vulnerabilities, and determine specific areas where AI can make the most impact, such as threat detection, incident response, or user authentication.

 

Choose the right AI technologies: Select AI technologies that align with your cybersecurity objectives and capabilities. This may include machine learning for anomaly detection, natural language processing for threat intelligence analysis, or robotic process automation for automating routine security tasks.

 

Invest in quality data: Ensure that your cybersecurity data is accurate, relevant, and representative of potential threats and attack scenarios. Invest in data quality assurance processes and data governance frameworks to maintain the integrity and reliability of your data.

 

Employ AI-driven threat intelligence: Leverage AI-powered threat intelligence platforms can analyze vast amounts of data from diverse sources, including open-source intelligence, dark web forums, and security feeds, to provide actionable intelligence for proactive defense.

 

Implement AI-driven anomaly detection: Deploy machine learning algorithms to monitor network traffic, user behaviour, and system activities for anomalies indicative of malicious activities. 

 

Enable AI-driven incident response: Automate incident response processes using AI-powered orchestration and automation tools which can analyze security alerts, prioritize incidents based on severity and impact, and execute predefined response actions to contain and mitigate security breaches more efficiently.

 

Ensure transparency and accountability: Maintain transparency and accountability in AI-driven cybersecurity initiatives by documenting processes, methodologies, and decision-making criteria. 

 

Stay informed about AI advancements and best practices: Keep abreast of the latest developments in AI technologies, cybersecurity trends, and best practices through continuous learning and engagement with industry forums, conferences, and professional networks. 

 

Balance AI automation with human oversight: While AI can automate routine security tasks and augment human capabilities, it is essential to maintain human oversight and intervention where necessary. 

 

Regularly evaluate and adapt your AI cybersecurity strategy: Continuously monitor the performance and efficacy of your AI-driven cybersecurity initiatives and make adjustments as needed based on evolving threats, technological advancements, and organizational requirements. 

 

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In the changing landscape of business, where uncertainty and rapid change are constants, effective leaders must adeptly manage chaos to ensure organizational resilience and success.

 

Navigating through tumultuous times requires a strategic and agile approach, says Linda Braga, Business & Executive Development Specialist with LMI Canada, which has provided leadership development for more than 50 years.

 

“I think there’s still a lot of uncertainty out there,” she says, referring to issues that now exist in workplaces surrounding remote working, labour shortages and retention. “I think leaders are still adapting to managing the workplace and the whole side of leading and actually developing their people because we are successful through our people.”

 

Unfortunately, Linda says developing employees now often takes a ‘backseat’ as company leaders navigate these issues, some of which have been magnified by major shifts in the workplace.

 

“There are four generations in the workplace right now and each come with different attitudes and different viewpoints,” she says, noting older employees prefer having that ‘physical’ presence in the office while younger ones are looking for more of a ‘social’ connection. “It’s about leaders being flexible and adaptable, and having more of an open mind to solicit feedback from their people. Empathy is huge right now.”

 

However, this could prove to be difficult considering statistics show that at least 60% of small and medium-sized businesses owners are aged 50 or older and many will soon be leaving their companies, making it harder for some to adapt to these dramatic workplace shifts before they retire.

 

Self-care important

 

To manage the chaos effectively, Linda leaders should first look at how they manage and lead themselves.

 

“I think it’s important they are able to put on their own oxygen masks first because they’re very busy dealing with the day to day trying to keep their companies running and keeping their employees happy,” she says, adding ‘self-care’ is something they should take seriously.

 

Linda says often leaders have difficulty asking for assistance, especially from their employees.

 

“Just because you’re a leader or manager, or a company owner, doesn’t necessarily mean you have all the answers and know everything,” she says. “That’s what I feel separates really good leaders from managers is that they empower their people.”

As well, when it comes navigating uncertainty and rapid change, setting goals is key for leaders.

 

“It’s important for our leaders and managers to have crystal clear goals, which they need to communicate,” says Linda, noting there is a big difference between efficiency and effectiveness. “They can be really good at being effective and doing things the right way. But are they doing the right things? Even as a leader, are you hitting your own goals? All leaders should be able to look at themselves in a mirror and be self-aware.”

 

 

Some key methods for business leaders to manage chaos:

 

 

Develop a Resilient Mindset:

Successful leaders should acknowledge that change is inevitable, viewing challenges as opportunities for growth rather than insurmountable obstacles. Embracing uncertainty allows leaders to respond with flexibility and creativity.

 

Establish Clear Communication Channels:

Leaders must provide regular updates, share relevant information, and foster a culture of open dialogue. Clear communication helps employees understand the situation, reduces anxiety, and builds trust in leadership.

 

Prioritize and Delegate Effectively:

Leaders must prioritize activities based on their impact on the organization's core objectives. Delegating responsibilities to capable team members ensures that tasks are handled efficiently, preventing overwhelm at the leadership level.

 

Encourage Adaptability:

Business leaders should encourage employees to embrace change, learn new skills, and remain agile in the face of uncertainty. An adaptable workforce is better equipped to navigate chaos and contribute to innovative solutions.

 

Invest in Technology and Automation:

Leveraging technology and automation can streamline processes and enhance organizational efficiency. Implementing digital solutions allows businesses to adapt quickly to changing circumstances and minimizes the disruptions caused by chaotic events.

 

Build a Diverse and Inclusive Team:

A diverse team brings varied perspectives and skills to the table, enhancing the organization's ability to address challenges creatively. Inclusion fosters a collaborative environment where team members feel valued, increasing their commitment to overcoming chaos together.

 

Conduct Scenario Planning:

Business leaders should engage in proactive scenario planning to anticipate potential challenges and devise strategies to address them. This foresight enables quicker and more effective responses when chaos unfolds, reducing the negative impact on the business.

 

Cultivate Emotional Intelligence:

Leaders with high emotional intelligence can navigate uncertainty with empathy, providing support to their team members and maintaining a positive organizational culture.

 

Learn from Mistakes:

Successful leaders acknowledge mistakes, learn from them, and apply those lessons to improve future decision-making. This adaptive learning approach contributes to organizational resilience.

 

Strategic Resource Allocation:

Business leaders must strategically allocate financial, human, and technological resources to areas that will have the most significant impact on maintaining stability and achieving long-term objectives.

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As technology continues to rapidly evolve, businesses are increasingly turning to Artificial Intelligence (AI) to streamline operations, enhance efficiency, and gain a competitive edge. 

 

There is no question surrounding the benefits of integrating AI into business processes, but there remain legitimate concerns that accompany this technological leap.

 

One primary concern is the ethical implications of AI implementation. As AI systems such as ChatGPT, ClickUp, Copy.ai, or Kickresume become more sophisticated, they often require access to vast amounts of data to function effectively. This raises questions about privacy and the responsible use of sensitive information, as well as legal concerns surrounding the use of intellectual property.

 

“The question is fair use or is it a violation of copyright,” says Maura Grossman, Research Professor, School of Computer Science at the University of Waterloo, whose expertise centres on AI policy and ethics. 

 

She notes that an AI user can reference a particular article, book, or poem, despite it being copyrighted.  “It shouldn’t be able to do that because that’s a copyright infraction, but it can. The law hasn’t caught up with that yet but there are a number of legal cases now pending.”

 

Algorithms a concern

 

As well, Professor Grossman says bias in AI algorithms is another major concern. AI systems learn from historical data, and if that data contains biases, the algorithms can sustain and amplify them resulting in discriminatory outcomes and reinforcing existing social disparities.

 

“You’re going to find that in the language as well as the images. Open AI has spent a lot of time trying to remove toxic language from the system, so you get a little bit less of that with ChatPT,” she says, referring to the problems Microsoft experienced when it released its Tay bot in March 2016. The bot, under the name TayTweets with the handle @TayandYou, resulted in Twitter (now known as ‘X’) users tweet politically incorrect phrases and inflammatory messages resulting in the bot releasing racist and sexually charged messages in response to other users. Initially, Microsoft suspended the account after 16 hours, erasing the inflammatory tweets and two days later took it offline.  

 

“Most systems, like ChatGPT, are trained on the internet and that has its pluses and minuses,” says Professor Grossman, adding ‘hallucinations’ pose another big problem for AI users. “ChatGPT for example is trained to generate new content and to sound very conversational, so it uses what it has learned on the internet to predict the next most likely word. But that doesn’t mean it’s telling you the truth.”

 

Official policy needed

 

She says there have been instances of people using AI to conduct legal research and submitting bogus case citations in court. “I think the first case happened recently in B.C., but it has also happened all over the U.S.,” says Professor Grossman.

 

For businesses utilizing AI, she recommends drafting an official policy to outline usage.

 

“First they need to have a policy and then need to train who in the business is going to use AI because people need to understand what it does well and doesn’t do well,” she says. “Your policy needs to say what permissible uses are and what impermissible uses are.”

 

Impermissible uses could include creating a deep fake video in the workplace.

 

“Even if it’s a joke, you don’t want employees creating deep fakes,” she says, noting the policy should also outline what workplace devices can be used for AI. “If you need to save something because you’re involved in a lawsuit, then you don’t want to it be on an employee’s personal device because you won’t have access to it.”

 

Employees require training

 

As well, Professor Grossman also recommends employees clearly know what AI tools are okay to use and which are not and ensure they are fully trained.

 

“You don’t want them violating intellectual property rules or other privacy rights. You also don’t want them putting into a public tool any confidential or propriety information,” she says. “Some companies have turned off the ability to use these AI tools because they are terrified employees will put propriety information out there while asking a question about a problem they are working on. If you’re using one of these open-source tools, it’s like Google or anything else; it’s free rein.”

 

Professor Grossman says rules and regulations around AI will be gradually strengthened, noting a new regulation coming into play in B.C. pertaining to issues surrounding intimate imagery is just one example.

 

“As soon as this starts making its way more into politics, we will start to see more effort into creating regulations,” she says, referring to a recent ‘deep fake’ image that surfaced of U.S. President Joe Biden.

 

Despite these issues, Professor Grossman says AI is something more businesses will become comfortable using and should embrace this new technology. 

 

“It will save on efficiency,” she says, noting AI can greatly assist in the creation of marketing material. “Companies need to explore it and learn about it but learn about it in safe ways and understand where it can be beneficial and not just let people experiment on their own because that’s going to lead to a lot of trouble.”

 

 

AI hurdles in business

 

  • Data Quality and Availability: AI models require vast amounts of data to learn and make accurate predictions. However, businesses often struggle with data quality issues, such as incomplete, inaccurate, or biased data. Additionally, accessing relevant data across various sources and systems can be challenging.
  • Data Privacy and Security: With the increasing emphasis on data privacy regulations businesses must ensure that AI systems comply. Protecting sensitive customer and business data from unauthorized access or breaches is crucial.
  • Lack of Skilled Talent: There's a significant shortage of professionals with expertise in AI and machine learning. Hiring and retaining skilled data scientists, machine learning engineers, and AI specialists can be difficult and expensive.
  • Integration with Existing Systems: Integrating AI solutions with existing business processes, legacy systems, and IT infrastructure can be complex and time-consuming. Compatibility issues, scalability concerns, and resistance to change within the organization can hinder successful integration.
  • Interpretability and Explainability: AI algorithms often operate as "black boxes," making it challenging to understand how they arrive at specific decisions or predictions. Lack of interpretability and explainability can lead to distrust among stakeholders and regulatory compliance issues.
  • Ethical and Bias Concerns: AI systems may inadvertently perpetuate biases present in the data they were trained on, leading to unfair outcomes or discrimination. Ensuring fairness, transparency, and accountability in AI decision-making processes is essential.
  • Cost and ROI Uncertainty: Implementing AI solutions involves significant upfront investments in technology, infrastructure, talent, and ongoing maintenance. Businesses may struggle to justify these costs and accurately measure the return on investment (ROI) of AI initiatives.
  • Regulatory Compliance and Legal Risks: AI applications in business must comply with various industry-specific regulations and standards. Failure to meet regulatory requirements can result in legal liabilities, fines, and damage to the company's reputation.
  • Change Management and Cultural Resistance: Introducing AI into the workplace often requires significant cultural and organizational changes. Resistance from employees, fear of job displacement, and lack of understanding about AI's potential benefits can impede adoption efforts.
  • Performance and Reliability: AI models may not always perform as expected in real-world environments due to factors like changing data distributions, unexpected scenarios, or adversarial attacks. Ensuring the reliability and robustness of AI systems is crucial for business applications.

 

 

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High inflation, interest rates and housing costs continue to drive pessimism in Ontario’s economic outlook, according to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s (OCC) eighth annual Ontario Economic Report (OER)

 

Despite this, many businesses surveyed remain confident in their own outlooks, with 53% expecting to grow in 2024.

 

“In spite of the fact there seems to be a mood of pessimism in the air, the reality of it is there seems to be more bright lights than there are dim lights,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher. “We’ve had years where business confidence and prospects of being confident are going to be over 60% but given where we are today, I think having around 50% of businesses confident they are going to have a good year and grow is a positive sign.”

 

However, he says that figure doesn’t minimize the economic issues facing businesses, including affordability and also notes the struggle to achieve necessary tax reform measures continues.

 

“We must also ensure there is a balance or equity in tax distribution from not only a cost perspective but also on deployment so when money is being handed out it’s being handed out appropriately,” says Greg.

 

The OER contains regional and sector-specific data on business confidence and growth, public policy priorities, regional forecasts, and timely business issues such as supply chains, employee well-being, diversity, equity and inclusion, economic reconciliation, and climate change.

 

The report, compiled from a survey of businesses provincewide conducted between Oct. 12 and Nov. 21 and received just under 1,900 responses, states that 13% of businesses are confident in Ontario’s economic outlook. That represents a 3% drop from last year and a 29% drop from the year before with the cost of living and inputs, inflation, and housing affordability as the key factors for the confidence decline.

 

The sector showing the most confidence was mining, with the least confidence being shown in the agriculture, non-profit and healthcare social assistance sectors. The most confident regions were Northeastern and Northwestern Ontario, both at 23%, and the least were Kitchener-Waterloo, Windsor-Sarnia, and Stratford-Bruce County. (The survey indicated these latter two regions had a high share of respondents in the non-profit and agriculture sectors compared to other regions).

 

“As the report suggests, businesses still need to grapple with economic headwinds and many of those headwinds are limiting their ability to invest in important issues within the workplace and that may well be part of the reason they are having difficulty hiring people,” says Greg. “That said, entrepreneurs are interesting individuals, and they always will find a way to wiggle themselves through the difficulties of the economy.”

 

He questions whether the pessimism around growth and confidence outlined in the survey is related to the economy or stems more from the fact many businesses are unable to hire the people they require so they can grow their business.

 

“There are lots of companies out there that need people and that’s always a good thing when you’re at a very low unemployment rate now which is hovering around the 5% rate,” says Greg, noting he receives calls and emails daily from local companies seeking workers. “As inflation starts to drop and as the Bank of Canada rates start to drop, I think we’ll see that pessimism go away.”

 

Read the report.

 

Outlook highlights: 

 

  • Small businesses are less confident (12%) than larger businesses (22%) due to challenges with repaying debt, fluctuations in consumer spending, inflationary pressures, and workforce-related challenges such as mental health.
  • Simplifying business taxes is identified as a major policy priority of 50% of surveyed businesses. 
  • Confidence in Ontario’s economic outlook varies considerably across industries and is lowest within the agriculture sector (3%), non-profit (8%), health care and social assistance (8%), and retail (10%) sectors. 
  • Confidence is highest in the province’s mining (46%) and utilities (27%) industries, both of which benefited from strong growth and investments in the province’s electrification infrastructure and electric vehicle supply chains. 
  • Businesses in Northeast and Northwest Ontario exhibit the highest confidence at 23%, where the mining industry is a major employer.
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While economic and technological shocks will always be a constant feature of our world, experts say small businesses must continue to adapt and innovate to stay competitive and satisfy consumer preferences.

 

“The adoption of technology should be the priority for small businesses and the adoption of AI where it can help bolster their business should also be a priority,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher, noting 98% of Canadian businesses qualify as small businesses.

 

In its recent report entitled, A Portrait of Small Business in Canada: Adaption, Agility, All At Once, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce touches on this issue as it explores the integral role small businesses  in play in Canada’s economy and sheds light on how these businesses can thrive despite major economic forces working against them — including the rising cost of doing business, the highest borrowing costs in over two decades and increased pandemic debt loads.

 

The report, which defines ‘micro businesses’ as having 1-4 employees, ‘scale businesses’ as 5-19 employees, and ‘mature businesses’ as 19-99 employees, shows how small businesses of all sizes, ages and industries are already investing in technology to better access data and applications from their computers, tablets, or mobile phones — whether in the office or on the road — to connect better with their customers and employees. However, as the report indicates, a business’s size is important to its ability to not only adopt technology, but also take advantage of a variety of technology tools. The report finds that even more change is essential.

 

Greg agrees and says the need for smaller businesses to adopt artificial intelligence (AI) is especially imperative.

 

“In all probability, smaller businesses are less likely to adopt AI technology because they may be fearful of it,” he says. “But the fact of the matter is it may be the only tool that can bring them up and allow them to compete.”

 

AI and digital technologies

 

According to the report, across all industries, a higher proportion of small businesses planned to invest in AI and digital technologies. While 62% of micro firms (compared with an average of 55% for all small firms) expressed plans for the latter, 30% of mature firms were keen on investing in AI compared with the all-industry average of 24% for all small businesses. Scale and mature businesses were more likely to adopt multiple technology tools, especially those in finance and insurance, professional services, and wholesale trade.

 

“If they (small businesses) don’t get knee deep in AI from a business perspective, they may be missing the boat that was inevitably sent to save them,” says Greg.

 

The report also highlights trends to help small businesses adapt to how Canadian shoppers have evolved. While online shopping accelerated as a result of the pandemic, roughly 75% of Canadian shoppers still visit physical stores for key items like groceries, clothing, automotive, electronics, home and garden, and health products. To meet consumer preferences, businesses need to implement on and offline sales strategies to reach customers.

 

In the report, the critical importance of having an enticing online commercial presence is highlighted, with 83% of Canadian retail shoppers reporting they conduct online research before they visit a store. Having physical stores near customers also supports online sales, with nearly one in 10 Canadians making purchases online from retailers located nearby.

 

“There is still an opportunity for small businesses to capitalize on local business by advertising and marketing themselves locally,” says Greg. “But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a strong online presence and look for every opportunity in which AI can help advance your cause.”

 

Canadian Chamber President & CEO Perrin Beatty says the findings in this report provides yet another signal that more focus is needed to support growth, especially among small businesses.

 

“We can start by reducing red tape, investing in infrastructure, and enabling an innovation economy,” he said in a press release. “These fundamentals of growth will increase Canadian businesses’ ability to compete and attract investment that will benefit Canadians, their families, and our communities.”

 

Click here to read the report.

 

 

Highlights of the report:

 

  • In June 2023, there were 1.35 million businesses in Canada with paid employees. The over- whelming majority (98% of the total) were conventionally classified as “small” businesses, which collectively employed over 11 million people.
  • In the “small business” category, micro firms are by far the most common businesses type in Canada. In fact, if all businesses in Canada were sorted by employment size, the median firm would have fewer than five employees, which underscores the importance of improving our understanding of the business realities of all small firms, but especially micro firms.
  • Nearly half of all small businesses are in the following four industries: professional, scientific, and technical services; construction; retail trade; and health care and social assistance.
  • Immigrants to Canada own a disproportionate share of private sector businesses (263,850 businesses, or 25.5% of all private sector businesses) compared with their share of population (23%). One strong factor is immigrants’ high share of micro businesses (30%), in contrasts with their underrepresentation in both scale and mature enterprises.
  • The past few years have offered women more flexible work arrangements, encouraging them to find more in-demand and higher-paying jobs, while government efforts to increase the availability of affordable childcare have helped women’s labour force participation to rebound. With the transition back to the office, barriers that perpetuate gender-based differences in labour force participation threaten this progress.
  • An underrepresented group in terms of business ownership (2.2%) compared with their share of the population (22%) is persons with a disability. Given the prevalence of disability, this gap signals tremendous untapped potential for entrepreneurship, but also one with significant potential effects on socio-economic outcomes, including labour market participation.
  • The LGBTQ2+ population (4% of Canada’s total population according to the 2021 Census) is also somewhat underrepresented as business owners (3.3%), lagging most as owners of mature businesses (0.6%).
  • Although they are 5% of the country’s population, Indigenous people’s share of businesses owned remains less than half of that (2.2%), although they appear to be doing better on ownership of mature businesses, the largest type of small business.
  • The most recent data (June 2023) show that, compared with pre-pandemic conditions in December 2019, the number of businesses increased by 7.3% for large firms, 5.0% for medium firms and only 2.9% for small firms.
  • Retail sales data show that e-commerce enjoyed a massive spike early in the pandemic but have since moderated as Canadians go back to in-person shopping. The share of total retail sales from e-commerce increased rapidly from 3.7% in January 2020 to peak of 10.7% just four months later in April 2020. With the lifting of pandemic related restrictions and stores have reopened for in-person shoppers, this figure has since moderated to 5.7%.
  • In addition to age, variation by industry showed a strong trend in technology adoption. Overall, average adoption shares across all industries and all technology tools were lowest for micro firms (12%), followed by scale (16%) and then mature firms (22%). Small businesses — particularly scale and mature — in finance and insurance, information and culture, professional services and wholesale trade were consistently among those reporting the highest technology adoption rates.
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The evolving nature of work continues to shape the employee landscape due to unprecedented changes driven by technological advancements, shifting societal expectations, and the aftermath of a global pandemic. As a result, organizations must adapt to emerging employee trends to foster a resilient and engaged workforce.

 

One way to accomplish this suggests Frank Newman, owner of Newman Human Resources Consulting, is to keep in touch with employees through engagement surveys.

 

“Listening to the pulse of your organization is going to be more important than ever,” he says. “Employers may also want to think about their work culture and in terms of what attracts people, and they want to make sure they are managing leadership effectively.”

 

Among the many trends employers must embrace is creating a more welcoming work environment, especially when it comes to Canada’s growing immigrant population.

 

More than 430,000 immigrants were brought to Canada in 2022 by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), with an additional target of 485,000 this year and a further 500,000 in 2025. IRCC data indicates in 2022, 184,725 of these new permanent residents came to Ontario.

 

“There is a large talent pool available, and employers have to be thoughtful in how they bring new talent into their organizations from our immigrant population,” says Frank. “The whole concept of diversity, inclusion, and equality is rising in terms of what’s important for companies and for individuals. If you’re not having that positive and diverse work culture, that’s going to hurt you in the long run.”

 

AI gaining importance

 

He says the introduction of AI tools, such as ChatGPT, Copy.ai and Kickresume, have not only benefitted Canada’s newcomer population by helping them become more proficient and fluid in the English language, but have become valuable assets for businesses as well.

 

“I think we are going to see more employers looking for people who have some AI experience,” says Frank. “Being able to say you can demonstrate use of those tools is a good thing for potential job candidates.”

 

However, there are potential downsides such as the creation of AI generated resumes and materials that can help a candidate embellish their qualifications.

 

“There are tools to test a document to see if it’s been AI written and you may now see many sophisticated employers doing just that,” he says. “They may also be thinking of asking a potential employee to provide writing samples.”

 

Managing performance key

 

Another trend is the emergence of ‘The Great Stay’ phenomenon, which experts say has been replacing the ‘Great Resignation’ experienced during the pandemic as employees re-evaluated their priorities and migrated to other opportunities.

 

“I’m not sensing The Great Stay too much in this region and am still sensing a fair bit of fluidity, but having people stay longer is always a good thing because it’s less costly,” says Frank, noting it can cost at least three times an employee’s salary to replace them considering the recruitment process, training, and upskilling. “Employers still have to focus on managing performance if people are going to stay longer and they have to invest in leadership and coaching if you want to maximize your investment.”

 

He notes employees may also be a little reluctant to move due to the ‘shakiness’ of the economy.

 

“I think employers may want to continue to monitor salaries which have stabilized quite a bit and want to make sure they are staying around that 3-4% annual change,” says Frank. “But I think in general, employers are cautiously optimistic about things going forward.”

 

 

Job Market Trends 

 

Hybrid Work Models

Employees now seek a balance between the flexibility of remote work and the collaboration offered by in-person interactions. Organizations that embrace hybrid models will likely attract and retain top talent, offering employees the autonomy to choose where and when they work.

 

Employee Well-being Takes Centre Stage

Organizations are placing a heightened focus on mental health, work-life balance, and holistic wellness programs. Employees value employers who prioritize their well-being, leading to increased job satisfaction and productivity.

 

Continuous Learning and Development

With the rapid pace of technological advancements, the demand for upskilling and reskilling is on the rise. Employees expect continuous learning opportunities to stay relevant in their roles and advance their careers. Forward-thinking organizations invest in robust training programs and partnerships with educational institutions to foster a culture of continuous development.

 

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)

Employees prioritize working for organizations that are committed to fostering diverse and inclusive workplaces. Companies that actively address and rectify disparities in hiring, promotions, and pay will not only attract diverse talent but also create a more innovative and collaborative work environment.

 

Emphasis on Employee Experience

Employee experience encompasses the overall journey of an employee within an organization. Companies are investing in enhancing the employee experience, from onboarding to offboarding. Personalized employee experiences, feedback mechanisms, and inclusive company cultures contribute to higher employee satisfaction and retention rates.

 

Remote Employee Engagement

With remote work becoming a staple, maintaining employee engagement is a challenge for many organizations. Companies are leveraging technology to create virtual team-building activities, foster communication, and build a strong remote work culture. Employee engagement tools and platforms play a crucial role in keeping teams connected and motivated.

 

Job Search and Career Success Hinge on Ethics

Employers are still looking for candidates who create undeniable value, not just put in clocked times, who have above-average communication skills, have a strong work ethic, will be reliable, possess the ability to think critically and above all, will fit their culture. Regardless of the uncertainty ahead, the key to creating job search luck will be the same as it has always been: preparation of hard work. 

 

 ‘The Great Stay’

The current global economic situation, the state of China and other major economies, as well as the ongoing geopolitical conflicts will see recession talk intensify, leading companies to focus on vital roles and hold off on hiring for roles that aren’t ‘must-haves’. Taking these factors into consideration, the next year it will be ‘The Great Stay’ as opposed to the ‘Great Resignation’ when many people switched jobs/careers during the pandemic.

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In the past year local businesses have faced many issues surrounding economic and labour concerns.

 

Despite these challenges, many have managed to prevail and overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles which is why the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce is encouraging local business leaders to recognize their success through a nomination at our annual Business Excellence Awards.

 

“The hard work of our business community is something we should all be very proud of and celebrate, especially during these current economic times,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher.  “Our awards are an important way to show how much our business community means to all of us.”

 

The Business Excellence Awards is the Chamber’s premier event and has honoured the achievements and contributions of business leaders in the City of Cambridge and Township of North Dumfries since 2000. 

 

It features 11 award categories, most of whom require nominations. These include Business of the Year, Spirit of Cambridge, and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award presented to the owner or director of a new or existing business that has achieved great success this past year.

 

“We have so many dynamic and innovative young business leaders in our community,” says Greg, referring to this award. “This is a great opportunity for them to be recognized for their work at building a successful business.”

 

Also included among the award categories are the prestigious Chair’s Award which is selected among from among the nominees and the Community Impact Award which is presented to an individual who has contributed, or continues to contribute, to the overall prosperity, economic growth, or vibrancy of the community.

 

“These awards really speak to the calibre of businesspeople we have in Cambridge,” says Greg, adding the awards are great way to let others know what local businesses have accomplished. “This is the time to share your story.” 

 

The awards will be held May 29 at Tapestry Hall. Nominations close Feb. 23.

Click here to submit a nomination.

 

 

Award Categories and Criteria:

 

Spirit of Cambridge AwardThis award recognizes an outstanding effort and commitment to making Cambridge and/or Township of North Dumfries a better, more prosperous community through corporate leadership and social responsibility.

 

Business of the Year (1 – 10 employees)This award is given to a good corporate citizen who exhibits a competitive edge through technological innovation in one or more of three following areas: customer service; workplace environment, products and services, growth in business, employee retention.

 

Business of the Year (11 – 49 employees)Given to a good corporate citizen who exhibits a competitive edge through technological innovation in one or more of three following areas: customer service; workplace environment, products and services, growth in business, employee retention.

 

Business of the Year (More than 50 employees)This award is given to a good corporate citizen who exhibits a competitive edge through technological innovation in one or more of three following areas: customer service; workplace environment; products and services; growth in business; employee retention.

 

New Venture of the Year Award –   This award is presented to a new or existing business that through innovation of design and technology has significantly improved the esthetics and functionality of their operation.

 

Outstanding Workplace – Employer of the Year - The recipient of this award goes above and beyond to ensure it provides employees with the best overall workplace, with a strong focus on a happy and healthy work culture and environment.

 

Marketing ExcellenceThis award is presented to the business or organization that has best demonstrated excellence, innovation, and originality in traditional or new-media marketing.

 

Young Entrepreneur of the Year AwardThe recipient of this award is presented to the director/owner aged 18-40 of a new or existing business who has achieved outstanding results by successfully building it up to a new level.

 

WOWCambridge.com Customer Service Award - Each month the Chamber has recognized an individual at a business who has gone above and beyond, providing extraordinary service in everyday situations. These individuals and the businesses they work for exemplify service excellence. This award is presented to one of those monthly winners as the Grand Award Winner.

 

Community Impact Award - This award recognizes an individual who has contributed, or continues to contribute, to the overall prosperity, economic growth, or vibrancy of our community through their business, volunteer or philanthropic endeavours, and exemplary overall service to assist others.

 

Chair's Award - The Chair's Award recognizes an outstanding organization or individual who makes an exceptional effort which goes above and beyond the call of duty in any area of business and/or community development.

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In the fast-paced world of business, the success of any organization hinges on the quality of its workforce. Hiring mistakes can be both expensive and detrimental to a company's growth and stability, especially in this changing job market which is now seeing an influx of potential candidates in certain fields.

 

“I really do feel that the market over the last year has softened,” says Lisa Marino, Senior Recruitment Specialist with H2R Business Solutions, noting there are always a handful of roles that are specialized resulting in fewer available candidates.

 

Her colleague Sue Benoit, Head of Recruitment Services at H2R Business Solutions, agrees.

 

“On the trades side there still is a labour shortage, especially since those types of roles are really hard to fill,” she says. “But if you have an accounting or bookkeeping role to fill there’s 100 plus applicants.”

 

As a result, finding the right person to fill those types of positions means putting systems in place that can help you avoid potential pitfalls, such as taking too long to decide on a potential hire which is a common mistake many employers make, says Sue.

 

“If they’re taking too long in the decision or interview process, they can lose that great candidate who might have been hard to find in the first place,” she says. “Then it it’s a matter of having to start over a lot of the time because employers are not going to just settle, necessarily.” 

 

As well doing their due diligence regarding reference checking, her colleague suggests making a select group of others in the company part of the hiring process.

 

“Bring in one or two other people from the company into the process rather than letting the hiring manager do it all because somebody from another department may be instrumental helping you gain a different perspective of the candidate,” says Lisa, adding incorporating some of type of skills testing during that process, depending on the level of the role, can also be helpful. “It can give some insight of how a candidate thinks.”

 

She also says once a candidate has been hired, an employer should be diligent when it comes to monitoring the performance of that person during their 90-day probationary period and watch for potential ‘flags’. These can include absences, struggling to meet deadlines, or an overall disconnect with their new workplace or colleagues.

 

“Hopefully, the recruiter is good enough to catch some of those flags in our pre-screen conversations,” says Sue. “How interested are they in the organization? Have they done any research? Employers really want someone who is truly interested in what they’re doing.”

 

 

Tips for avoiding hiring mistakes

 

Define Clear Job Requirements

Before posting a job opening, employers should thoroughly analyze and document the skills, qualifications, and experience necessary for the role. This not only ensures that candidates are well-informed but also assists in filtering applicants more effectively.

 

Create a Comprehensive Recruitment Strategy

Develop a well-thought-out recruitment strategy that includes a timeline, sourcing channels, and a structured interview process. By outlining the steps from job posting to offer, employers can maintain control and consistency throughout the hiring journey.

 

Leverage Technology

The use of technology can significantly streamline the hiring process, from applicant tracking systems (ATS) to video interviews. These tools help in organizing candidate information, assessing qualifications, and conducting efficient interviews. 

 

Thoroughly Assess Cultural Fit

A candidate might have an impressive resume, but if they don't align with the company culture, it can lead to a discordant team dynamic. Incorporate questions and assessments during interviews that delve into a candidate's values, work style, and how well they would integrate into the existing team.

 

Conduct Behavioural Interviews

Conducting behavioral interviews allows employers to gain insights into how candidates handled situations in their previous roles. This approach provides a more realistic preview of a candidate's capabilities.

 

Check References Thoroughly

Reach out to previous employers, colleagues, and supervisors to gain a comprehensive understanding of the candidate's work ethic, reliability, and interpersonal skills. A candidate's performance history can reveal valuable information that might not be apparent during interviews.

 

Utilize Probationary Periods

Implementing probationary periods for new hires allows both the employer and the employee to assess the fit within the organization. This trial period provides an opportunity to evaluate job performance, integration into the team, and adherence to company values before making a long-term commitment.

 

Invest in Continuous Training for Hiring Managers

If possible, equip hiring managers with the skills necessary to conduct effective interviews, assess candidates accurately, and make informed decisions. Continuous training on fair hiring practices, diversity, and inclusion can help mitigate biases and enhance the overall quality of hiring decisions.

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The holiday season is not only a time for festive decorations and gift-giving but also an opportunity to foster camaraderie and build connections in the workplace and at industry functions. 

 

Work-related events during this time of the year provide a unique setting for networking, as colleagues and potential clients come together to celebrate the spirit of the season. These gatherings, which can take place right into the New Year, offer more than just a break from the daily grind — they create a platform for professionals to connect on a personal level, share experiences, and build lasting relationships.

 

“You’re there to start building relationships because people prefer to do business with others they know, like and trust,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher.  “It’s not about being the salesperson, because you’re not selling a product or service, it’s about selling yourself and building a relationship to the point where people want to start doing business with you.”

 

One of the key benefits of networking during holiday season workplace events is the relaxed atmosphere. This informal setting allows professionals to get to know each other beyond their job titles and responsibilities. 

 

Additionally, holiday season work events often include activities that promote team building. From festive games to group activities, these events create opportunities for collaboration and teamwork. Working together in a different context can reveal new aspects of colleagues' personalities and skills, leading to a deeper understanding of each other's strengths and abilities.

 

Also, networking during holiday events provides a chance for professionals to express gratitude and appreciation. 

 

Embracing the festive spirit of the season, professionals can build meaningful relationships that extend beyond the workplace, creating a supportive and collaborative professional network that lasts throughout the year.

 

Here are some tips to make the most of business networking at this time of year:

 

Be Approachable:

If you want people to know you’re approachable, remember that body language is important so try not to cross your arms and legs, or use objects (drinks or plates of food) as potential barriers. Also, maintain positive eye contact and lean in slightly to let others know you are interested and engaged.

 

Stay Professional:

While the atmosphere may be festive, remember that you are still in a professional setting. Maintain a level of professionalism in your interactions, even in a more relaxed environment. How you greet people at these events can impact their perception of you. A warm and firm handshake, or a light touch on the arm or shoulder can create an instant bond. 

 

Prepare An Elevator Pitch:

Be ready to succinctly describe your business or professional background. A well-crafted elevator pitch can make a lasting impression during brief encounters.

 

Dress for Success:

Wear appropriate attire. Always remember this is a business event. Festive and stylish is great, but flashy or too revealing can be unprofessional.

 

Limit Your Smartphone Use:

If you can, leave your smartphone at home, or try to keep it out of sight. Constantly checking emails and texts while talking with fellow partygoers can send the wrong message.

 

Update Your Business Cards:

Ensure your business cards are up-to-date and bring plenty with you. The festive season can be a great time to exchange contact information.

 

Express Gratitude:

Send personalized holiday cards or emails to your professional contacts, expressing gratitude for the collaboration and partnership throughout the year. It's a thoughtful way to strengthen relationships.

 

Set Realistic Goals:

Set specific, achievable networking goals for each event. Whether it's connecting with a certain number of people or initiating conversations with key individuals, having a plan can make your networking efforts more focused.

 

Join Online Networking Events:

If in-person events are limited, consider participating in virtual networking events. Many organizations and platforms offer online gatherings where you can connect with professionals from the comfort of your home or office.

 

Utilize Social Media:

Share holiday greetings and updates on your professional social media profiles. Engage with your network online by commenting on their posts or sharing relevant content.

 

Follow Up:

After the event, follow up with new contacts promptly. Send a personalized message expressing your pleasure in meeting them and suggesting ways to stay in touch.

 

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