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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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The weight of responsibility can be overwhelming for business leaders.

 

They are constantly under pressure to drive growth, manage teams, make critical decisions, and ensure their organizations’ long-term success, which is something Debra Burke, Head of Client Success at H2R Business Solutions says has only been magnified in the recent years.

 

“Since the pandemic, some things have really changed. They changed during the pandemic and somewhat again since then,” she says, referring to a rise in negative conflicts which can lead to a toxic environment and even workplace investigations. 

 

“We’re seeing an unbelievable amount of those kinds of problems coming into play in organizations and have leaders coming to us because they’ve never had to deal with them before but are dealing with them much more often.”

 

She says employees have become more empowered with information, and that many are dealing with mental health issues and feeling ‘angry’.

 

“They may not be working with the same expectations in their jobs that they used to and for some people, there are more challenges as they deal with downsizing, and shifts,” says Debra, adding bigger workloads, and hybrid work situations could be adding to these stresses since they may no longer ‘align’ with what an employee wants.

 

As a result, she says many leaders are now seeing more employees who are willing to take employers to court, or a human rights tribunal, or filing a report with the Ministry of Labour.

 

“Leaders who may never really had many people issues to deal with are now finding they are faced with all kinds of these things just to keep the business going,” says Debra. 

 

She says the challenges can vary between the several generations of employees that are now in the workplace, noting there are still many benefits of having a multi-generational workforce despite potential issues.

 

Leadership can be isolating

 

“For a leader, becoming someone who has to manage all these things that come to play and the nuances and potential conflicts, plus the lack of time and resources, it’s very challenging,” says Debra. “When someone says being a leader can be a very isolating place, they are not wrong.”

 

She says leaders must first watch for warning signs and realize they don’t have all the answers.

 

As the demands of leadership continue to mount, it is vital for leaders to discover effective strategies to ease their burden and navigate their roles successfully, which Debra says can start with better communication.

 

“As a leader, you have to get comfortable with communicating. Employees want messaging and they want to hear it from the owner, CEO, or an executive,” she says, adding that a communication breakdown is often the key cause of any conflict, and that lack of management training could be the root cause. “When you do a job well and get promoted to management, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be a good people manager.”

 

As well, Debra says leaders can benefit from expert support from others who may have experienced the same issues they are facing, even those outside of a leader’s particular industry.

 

“I’m not a big fan of coaching for your own industry. You can receive a lot of benefits from working with a diverse support group,” she says. “Even if you feel like you’re an introvert CEO or leader, you might be really surprised how much that support is going to mean to you.”

 

And while some companies and industries are dealing with tight budgets, Debra says investing in training can pay off big time for a leader professionally and personally, as well as the organization.

 

“Those things are going to trickle down through an organization in powerful and impactful ways,” she says.

 

 

Several strategies to lighten the burden of leadership

 

Delegation and empowerment

Many leaders fall into the trap of trying to do everything themselves, fearing that no one else can handle the responsibilities as well. However, effective delegation distributes the workload and fosters team development and growth.

By entrusting capable team members with tasks and responsibilities, leaders can free up valuable time and mental energy to focus on strategic decision-making and higher-priority matters. Delegation is not just about offloading tasks but also about giving team members the opportunity to contribute and grow.

 

Building a support system

Establishing a support system of mentors, advisors, or fellow business leaders can provide valuable guidance and emotional support. Sharing experiences and seeking advice from those who have faced similar challenges can be invaluable.

Additionally, leaders should foster a culture of open communication within their organizations. Encouraging team members to share their thoughts and concerns can lead to more collaborative problem-solving and reduce the burden on the leader.

 

Embracing technology and automation

Automation can handle routine tasks, data analysis, and reporting, allowing leaders to focus on strategic initiatives. Investing in technology solutions that align with the organization’s goals and processes can significantly reduce the administrative burden on leaders. Moreover, data-driven insights can aid in making informed decisions and staying ahead of market trends.

 

Setting realistic goals and expectations

While ambition is essential, setting achievable goals and expectations is equally crucial. Unrealistic targets can lead to stress and burnout, as well as erode team morale. Leaders should work with their teams to establish realistic objectives and timelines. This approach fosters a sense of accomplishment and helps prevent the exhaustion that can result from chasing unattainable goals.

 

Continuous learning and development

Continuous learning and professional development are essential for effective leadership. Leaders should invest in their own growth by attending seminars, workshops, and courses relevant to their industry. Also, encouraging team members to pursue their own professional development can contribute to the organization’s success and ease the burden on leaders.

 

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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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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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Navigating the intricacies of entrepreneurship and professional growth in the business world can be a daunting journey filled with challenges, uncertainties, and a constant need for adaptability. 

 

In this ever-evolving business environment, the mentor-mentee relationship can be a powerful and crucial catalyst for success and personal development, which is why our Chamber Circles program has been created. 

 

The program – one for women and another for entrepreneurs - offers business leaders a platform to not only expand their network but explore potential partnerships with peers as they advance their own growth both professionally and personally. 

 

The Chamber has enlisted a group of talented business mentors for each ‘Circle’ which consists of between four and five people who will discuss pre-selected topics once a month.

 

“Chamber Circles is a great way for business leaders to not only tap into our mentors’ knowledge and professional connections but can lead to networking opportunities with their peers as well as give participants the chance to cultivate their own skills and strengths,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “The monthly sessions will provide these business leaders with some added tools they need to enhance their businesses.”

 

He says the Chamber Circles for Women stream was created after the Chamber was approached by some female members requesting an opportunity to learn and collaborate with other women business leaders like themselves. The second stream, Chamber Circles for Entrepreneurs, is available to all business leaders.

 

“Having both streams provide a large cross-section of the business community the chance to thrive and succeed,” says Greg.

 

The program touches on a variety of topics, including bringing creativity into your work role, finding new ways to manage yourself and others, how to give and receive effective feedback, as well as a look at resiliency and the importance to continuously evolve. 

 

“These are topics we feel are very relevant to operating a business in today’s economic climate and will give these leaders an even better foundation,” says Greg.

 

Click here to learn more about joining Chamber Circles

 

A few reasons why joining Chamber Circles can assist your business:

Guidance Through Experience

By sharing their experiences, mentors provide invaluable insights that can help mentees avoid pitfalls and make informed decisions. 

 

Accelerated Learning Curve

Instead of relying solely on trial and error, mentees can leverage the wisdom of their mentors to gain a deeper understanding of industry intricacies, best practices, and strategies for success. 

 

Building a Network

Building a robust network is an invaluable asset, often leading to collaborations, partnerships, and a broader spectrum of career opportunities.

 

Confidence and Emotional Support

Having a mentor provides a reliable source of emotional support and encouragement. This emotional support fosters confidence, helping mentees navigate uncertainties with a positive mindset.

 

Encouraging Innovation

Mentors not only guide mentees within existing frameworks but also encourage innovative thinking. This dynamic approach to problem-solving is essential in an era where innovation is often the key differentiator between success and stagnation.

 

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The Canadian tourism sector has experienced a brisk recovery since the initial pandemic lockdowns, according to economic experts. But that recovery pace has been easing due to higher interest rates, a slowing job market, and broader cyclical slowdown in the U.S. and abroad. In Ontario, many tourism operators continue to face a great deal of debt caused by the pandemic, prompting many to worry about what the future holds. 

 

Locally, tourism in 2024 is expected to continue to do well, despite the ‘economic crunch’ that may prompt travelers to adjust their plans in the coming year. 

 

We reached out to Explore Waterloo CEO Michele Saran to get her take on what the local tourism sector can expect in the New Year:

 

 

How is local tourism shaping up for 2024, considering the economic realities many people are dealing with?

 

Tourism in Waterloo Region is expected to continue doing well into 2024.  We are beating 2019 pre-pandemic; hotel occupancy numbers and campaigns are driving keen interest in our offerings.  Yes, the economic crunch is impacting everyone and may result in visitors spending a bit less but not completely abandoning all vacation plans.  People consider travel a priority and have been shown to spend less in other discretionary areas to afford some kind of getaway with family and friends. Waterloo Region’s main market is the GTA, and we really lean into the concept of being the perfect road trip destination.  This type of travel can be as budget conscious as one wishes.  There are so many affordable options for fun.

 

 

Are local tourism operators feeling optimistic about what is in store for 2024?

 

The operators I speak with are all quite optimistic about a strong 2024, despite concerns around inflation and its impact on visitor spending.  In addition to leisure travel, we are also seeing incredible interest in the region for meetings, conventions, and sporting events.  The tourism industry is nothing if not resilient. Having come out on the other side of a worldwide pandemic that shut everything down completely, we now have the gift of perspective.  

 

 

What are some of the hurdles do local tourism operators face in the coming year?

 

One of the biggest challenges facing tourism operators everywhere (not just in Waterloo Region) is rebuilding the workforce.  Hospitality workers left the industry during the pandemic, and many did not return.  Industry advocacy organizations are working to address this issue from many angles, from working with government to ease immigration barriers to marketing the industry to students as a career choice. Finding affordable housing is a big hurdle for those in the service sector.  Many of the destinations that are the most popular with visitors are also very expensive places to live.  People want to live in the same area where they work, and this presents another labour-related challenge for the tourism industry as well as many others.

 

Despite optimism for next year’s visitation potential, a very significant issue is the amount of debt tourism businesses incurred during the pandemic just to stay afloat and survive.  According to the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario, 55% of operators say they lack confidence they will be able to repay their debts in two years and 45% risk closure in three years without government intervention.  Thirty-three percent of tourism businesses indicate that they hold more than 250K in outstanding debt. This is a serious issue and one all tourism advocacy organizations continue to push with government for solutions.

 

 

Is talk of the pandemic a thing of the past?

 

I recently returned from the Tourism Industry Association of Canada’s Annual Tourism Congress.  The conversation was around the legacy effects of COVID cited above but I think the entire industry is ready to put the pandemic itself in the rearview mirror and focus on what we do best – welcoming visitors and showing them why our area is fantastic.   

 

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The holiday shopping season has begun, and retailers are hoping for the best despite the fact consumer indicators have been painting a less than perfect picture of the weeks to come. In fact, according to Deloitte Canada’s 2023 Holiday Retail Outlook, Canadians are expected to spend at least $1,300 over the holidays representing an 11% drop from last year. 

 

But how these dire predictions will affect them in 2024 remains to be seen.

 

“I think in 2024 retailers will be facing an awful lot of pressure on inventory management and cashflows just because of the interest rate problems,” says Brad Davis, Associate Professor at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Lazaridis School of Business and Economics, who specializes in consumer behaviour and trends. “I think retailers are going to have a real deal seeking consumer base who are going to want deals, and that again cuts into their margins and can play havoc with inventory turnover.”

 

He says like the past couple of years, effective retail management will be required noting that consumers, in general, don’t really pay attention to consumer indicators.

 

“We’re not very good a judging what is a good deal or what is good value,” says Brad, noting that many consumers are very susceptible to perceived ‘sales’. “We have this whole apparatus that is designed to stimulate impulse purchasing.”

 

To encourage more in-store shopping, which has been facing turmoil as anti-theft measures and store closures detract from the customer experience, retail experts insist consumers must be provided exclusive products and deals or fun, and experiences they can’t find online. 

 

However, Brad says the true definition of what that special ‘customer experience’ is can be hard to pinpoint.

 

“Experts can never seem to quite define what this is,” he jokes, adding a positive in-store environment with expediated delivery and payments, and return policies should play a role. “We used to just call it good customer service. But for most consumers, when you talk to them about what they think is a good experience it’s ‘Can I find stuff easy?’, ‘I want to be able to check in and out fast’, ‘I don’t want salespeople bugging me unless I need help’. It’s sort of fairly basic.”

 

He says customer mapping is also something to consider, noting that online searching can lead consumers to physical stores. Industry experts often refer to the omnichannel approach where consumers may start their search in one place and make their purchase in another and encourage retailers in 2024 to learn where their audience is discovering products and where they are buying them.

 

“There is still a huge social component of shopping in a mall, particularly with younger generations,” says Brad, noting that humans still crave that ‘tactile’ physical encounter. “You have a generation of young people who is always going to gravitate to that sense of immediate gratification.”

 

He says the key for retailers going forward is to remain flexible in their approach to conducting business.

 

“Something that worked before and got you where you are now does not mean it’s going to get you where you need to go next,” says Brad. “Things are just happening so fast in multiple directions, and you have to be open to rethink and revisit what you thought was truth before.”

 

 

Released this past fall, the 6th annual RCC X Leger Holiday Shopping Survey from Retail Council of Canada (RCC) unveils the evolving shopping patterns of more than 2,500 Canadians: 

 

A few findings:

 

  • Savvy Shopping in Spotlight: Economic apprehensions, including inflation and rising living costs, weigh on many. Accordingly, 88% (vs 83% in 2022) of Canadians are turning to proactive holiday shopping tactics, most notably hunting for sales (52%), preparing in advance (41%), and adhering to a precise budget (40%).
  • Retailer Selection: To help shoppers decide which retailers to buy from this year, Canadians are prioritizing holiday sales/promotions (66%) and free shipping (55%). They are also looking for in-store exclusives (48%) and distinct online promotions (60%) to provide additional value.
  • Shopping Experiences Enhancers: In-store shopping will benefit from value bundles (26%) and product sampling (25%). Conversely, online shopping will be amplified by unique product offers and extended return policies, both at 33%.
  • Lead Spending Categories: Clothing emerges as 2023’s frontrunner, constituting 17% of the holiday budget, followed closely by home entertainment and essentials like food and alcohol grabbing 16% of the planned spend. 
  • More Gift Cards:  45% of shoppers are leaning towards purchasing gift cards for others this season, with a notable 37% of Canadians (up from 32% last year) expressing a preference for receiving gift cards over traditional presents. Dining gift cards top the charts (42%), while big-box retailers come in at 33% and food outlets register at 27%.
  • Local Shopping Upswing: Supporting local businesses this holiday has seen an increase in intent, with 82% of Canadians accentuating its importance, a leap from 74% last year.

 

Source: Canada News Wire

 

 

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Effective leadership communication is the cornerstone of any successful business or organization.

 

A leader's ability to convey their vision, build trust, and inspire others can determine the difference between an average outcome and an extraordinary one.

 

But to arrive at that point requires the ability to be a good listener.

 

“There’s a lot of people that listen but they don’t hear,” says career consultant and corporate soft skills trainer Murray Comber of Life Concepts. “You cannot be a good communicator unless you are a good listener. It’s all about understanding yourself and understanding others.”

 

Since 2001 he has trained more than 8,000 people, noting that many in the workplace don’t realize becoming a better communicator is a very learnable skill.

 

“It’s all about the pattern of human dynamics,” says Murray, adding that boards of education or even in families, do not teach people how they are hard wired. “I teach my clients that. I always say to them you need to know who you are, and you need to know who you are not.”

 

He says at least 71% of companies that fail do so because the leader didn’t understand who they were and who their employees were.


“Good communication is based on a relationship. You don’t communicate with people you don’t relate with,” says Murray, who regularly uses personality and temperament studies to determine a course of action for his clients. “Unless you know how to relate to a person, it’s going nowhere.”

 

He admits this type of soft skills training is often considered ‘fluff’ and is usually one of the first things cut from the budget or put on the backburner when economic times get tough.

 

“The truth is when things are going south, that’s when they should be put on the front-burner,” says Murray. “Training shouldn’t be seen as an expense but as an investment.”

 

In terms of advice for business leaders looking to take their first step at becoming better communicators, he says there must be a willingness to learn and connect with employees not just as a manager with subordinates. 

 

“What I’ve learned is that there is more emphasis put on product knowledge than there is people’s knowledge,” says Murray. “When you respond to what you’ve heard and have listened, you build trust with your employees and good communication is built on trust.”

 

 

To lead effectively, one must be a skilled communicator who can inspire, guide, and unite a team. A few things to consider:

 

  • Active Listening: Leaders must pay close attention to what others are saying, not just with their ears, but also with their eyes and heart. By showing genuine interest and empathy, leaders can better understand their team's needs and concerns, creating a foundation of trust and respect.
  • Clarity and Conciseness: Leaders must articulate their thoughts and ideas clearly and concisely. Avoiding jargon and complex language ensures that the message is easily understood by all team members. A clear message prevents confusion and promotes alignment with the leader's vision.
  • Empathy: Leaders who demonstrate empathy can connect on a deeper level with their team members, making them feel valued and understood. This skill helps resolve conflicts, build trust, and foster a positive work environment.
  • Adaptability: Effective leaders are versatile in their communication style. Whether it's a one-on-one conversation, a team meeting, or a public presentation, adaptability ensures that the message resonates with its intended audience.
  • Body Language: Leaders should be aware of their own body language and the signals they convey. Maintaining open and approachable body language encourages a sense of comfort and trust within the team.
  • Feedback and Constructive Criticism: Leaders need to provide feedback and constructive criticism in a manner that is supportive and motivating. Constructive feedback should focus on specific behaviors, offer solutions, and be delivered in a private and respectful setting.
  • Conflict Resolution: Leaders must be skilled in addressing and resolving conflicts, promoting a healthy and productive work environment. Effective communication is essential in facilitating conversations that lead to resolution and growth.
  • Storytelling: Leaders who can weave a narrative around their vision and goals are more likely to capture the hearts and minds of their team members. Storytelling is a powerful tool for making the message memorable and relatable.
  • Consistency: Leaders must align their words with their actions and decisions. When team members can rely on a leader's consistency, they feel secure and are more likely to follow their guidance.
  • Openness to Feedback: Leaders should be open to receiving feedback from their team members and actively seek it out. Constructive criticism can help leaders improve their communication and leadership skills.

 

By honing these skills, leaders can create a positive and productive work environment, foster strong relationships with their teams, and achieve success in their leadership roles.

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