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A large majority of Canadian businesses are sluggish when it comes to the adoption of Generative Artificial Intelligence (Gen AI), according to the results of a recent report by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s Business Data Lab (BDL).

 

The 38-page report details how a multitude of barriers, along with a lack of trust in the new technology, could impede the adoption levels needed to improve Canada’s economic growth.

 

Locally, the report shows that 11% of businesses in Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge are "using", or "planning to use" Gen AI, compared to 18% in Toronto or 15% in Ottawa. 

 

The report, Prompting Productivity: Generative AI Adoption by Canadian Businesses, underscores how Gen AI (referring to Large Language Models bases and the practical applications built on top of them) can help tackle one of the most significant economic challenges facing Canadian prosperity and standard of life — low productivity — while also exploring what is holding Canadian businesses back from adopting AI technologies.

 

The results detailed in the report, compiled from a survey of 13,327 businesses in January and February of this year, shows that larger businesses are nearly twice as likely to adopt Gen AI compared to smaller businesses. Overall, the data shows that one in seven businesses (roughly 14%) – mostly larger businesses and industries with highly educated workers – are Gen AI adopters. 

 

Patrick Gill, BDL's Senior Director of Operations and Partnerships, and the report's lead author, says he's surprised more small businesses haven't been embracing this new technology. 

 

“I’ve never run into a small business owner who wasn’t run off their feet and wearing multiple hats or wish they could replicate themselves,” he says. “But that’s the nice thing about this tool. With little or at no cost a small business owner or team can leverage this to fill in some of their existing skills gaps.”

 

According to the report, the top three industries adopting AI includes information & culture (31%), professional services (28%), and finance and insurance (23%). The two lowest to adopt are agriculture, forestry, and fishing (8%) and construction (7%).

 

Building trust an issue

 

Patrick says historically, larger businesses usually face more barriers adopting new technologies due to the fact their operations are more complicated and often have technology ‘stacked’ on top of each other.

 

“Smaller businesses usually face less of a challenge,” he says. “Their biggest challenge has usually been ‘Do I have the money right now to invest in a new technology?.”

 

Besides potential costs, trust is also a key issue.

 

“Public trust and the perception of AI will definitely play a crucial role in the adoption of the technology going forward,” says Patrick, noting a survey released last year indicated that Canada was the third most pessimistic country in the world and that only 38% of Canadians view AI in a positive light, slightly ahead of those in the U.S. and France.

 

Patrick says the Business Data Lab report also indicates that people are nervous about what the adoption of Gen AI will mean for their jobs and notes most agree change will come in the way they conduct their jobs, versus losing them outright.

 

“Right now, the technology is predominantly being used to augment workers’ abilities and not to replace them entirely,” he says, adding many are looking at Gen AI as a tool that can accelerate production and improve quality and services in effort to reduce costs. “That’s incredibly important during this time of a high-cost operating environment.”

 

From a global perspective as interest in Gen AI continues to grow, the report indicates that Canadian businesses need to move fast to gain a competitive advantage over global competitors. Low productivity and business investment puts Canadians’ prosperity and living standards at risk and its GDP per capita is now significantly below the U.S. and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) average.

 

Businesses must ‘innovate or die’

 

“Gen AI is a generational opportunity to boost Canadian productivity at a time when our performance is steadily headed in the wrong direction. The time to prompt productivity and act is now. Canadian businesses must innovate or die, and that means embracing Gen AI,” says Patrick. “While adoption has begun in every industry, it’s likely not fast enough for Canada to be competitive on the global stage, especially since three in four Canadian businesses still haven’t tried Gen AI yet.”

 

Based on two adoption scenarios (“fast” and “slow”), the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s BDL projects that Gen AI adoption by Canadian businesses will reach a tipping point of 50% in the next three to six years.  This may seem fast but is probably not fast enough to keep pace with global leaders. Businesses in the U.S., China and several European countries are investing heavily in AI, likely outpacing Canadian investment.

 

“Those who move first basically set the standards and capture the largest market share,” says Patrick. “And everyone else is perennially playing catch up.”

 

He hopes the findings in the BDL report may gently ‘nudge’ businesses into more experimentation when it comes to adopting Gen AI. 

 

“There are so many low costs and no cost options available, so experiment and give it a try,” says Patrick, explaining how AI can assist with creating emails, marketing, and promotional content, and well as new visuals. “Use and test it and eventually you’ll find a way.”

 

Click here to the read the report.

 

 

Key findings from the report

 

  • Roughly 1 in 7 Canadian businesses (14%) are early Gen AI adopters. They are found within every Canadian industry and region, but are more likely to be exporters, larger businesses, industries with highly educated workers or emerging enterprises.
  • Larger businesses are nearly twice as likely to use Gen AI than small businesses.
  • 18% of Ontario businesses are ‘already using’ or ‘plan to use’ Gen AI (Toronto rate was 18%, while KW-Cambridge was 11%).
  • On its current trajectory, Gen AI adoption by Canadian businesses could reach a tipping in the next 3 to 6 years — likely too slow to keep pace with global competitors.
  • Depending on the rate of adoption, Gen AI could grow Canada’s productivity between 1% and 6% over the next decade.
  • The factor of “trust” will be important for future adoption, with public interest and acceptance of AI likely being positively correlated with countries’ business adoption rates. Global IPSOS surveys reveal that Canadians are less knowledgeable and more nervous about AI than citizens of most other countries.
  • Most businesses using Gen AI are predominately looking to accelerate content creation (69%) and automate work without job cuts (46%).
  • Interestingly, replacing workers is not the primary driver of adoption, with only 1 in 8 businesses (13%) that use Gen AI cite its value for replacing employees. 
  • Roughly 3 in 10 businesses cite hiring skilled employees and access to finance as top challenges to adopting new technologies.
  • Almost 3 in 4 Canadian businesses (73%) have not even considered using Gen AI yet.
  • Public interest and perception of the technology are likely additional major barriers to adoption by businesses. 
  • It is recommended that Canadian businesses move fast to adopt Gen AI to gain a competitive advantage over global competitors. This means starting with small-scale pilot projects to validate the feasibility and impact of Gen AI before gradually expand to larger initiatives based on successful proofs of concept, all while training and preparing employees for its adoption.
  • For its part, government can support Gen AI adoption by upskilling workers, setting adoption targets, tapping the private sector, and among other actions, ensuring regulation is proportionate and risk based.

 

Recommendations for business

 

Innovate or die: Canadian businesses need to move fast to gain a competitive advantage over global competitors. With Gen AI so accessible and applicable for every type of business, there is little excuse for Canadian businesses to sit on the sidelines. 

 

Pilot projects that measure uplift: Start with small pilot projects to validate the feasibility and impact of Gen AI. Compare metrics (e.g., efficiency, costs savings and revenue generation) before and after its implementation.

 

Change management and employee training: Prepare employees for the adoption of Gen AI. Provide training sessions, workshops, and resources to help them understand the technology and develop new workflows. 

 

Strategic alignment: Align Gen AI adoption with overall strategic goals. Identify where Gen AI can enhance existing processes, improve customer experience, or drive innovation. 

 

Data infrastructure and governance: Invest in robust data infrastructure and governance practices. High-quality data is essential for training Gen AI models. Ensure data privacy, security, and compliance. 

 

Talent acquisition and retention: Attract and retain talent skilled in Gen AI. Recruit data scientists, machine learning engineers and domain experts who can develop and deploy Gen AI solutions. 

 

Investment in cloud infrastructure: Leverage cloud platforms for scalable computing power. Cloud services facilitate model training, deployment, and maintenance, allowing businesses to experiment and iterate efficiently. 

 

Leverage public resources: Move faster by basing policies on the federal government’s Guide on the use of Gen AI or tapping available funding, such as the NRC’s (National Research Council of Canada) IRAP AI Assist Program.

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In the dynamic landscape of modern business, where competition is fierce and innovation is paramount, the role of effective leadership cannot be overstated. Among the many responsibilities of business leaders, one crucial aspect often stands out: conducting performance management reviews. These periodic evaluations of employee performance are not merely administrative tasks but essential components of a thriving organizational culture.

 

“People really need to have those conversations because quite often they’re operating in a vacuum,” says Debra Burke, Head of Client Success at HR2 Business Solutions, adding most people believe they are doing a good job and take pride in their work. "And in the absence of any feedback to the contrary, they go about their merry way with that. But you just can’t come around and surprise people afterwards if you haven’t had those conversation with them.”

 

Performance management reviews provide a structured mechanism for evaluating employee contributions and aligning them with organizational goals. By assessing individual performance against predefined objectives, leaders can gauge the effectiveness of their workforce in driving the company's mission forward.

 

This evaluation helps identify high performers who deserve recognition and rewards, as well as areas where improvement or additional support may be needed. Such insights enable leaders to make informed decisions regarding talent development, resource allocation, and strategic planning.

 

But how a manager or leader initiates the process should be done in a positive way, says Debra.

 

“When you say, ‘performance review’, sometimes I feel we can go down a negative road,” she says. “It has mixed messages for people, especially those who have had really bad experiences with those kinds of things. I prefer performance conversations.”

 

Setting clear expectations vital

 

Debra believes that employees want a clear understanding of how their performance is being viewed, especially when it may relate to compensation or promotions, and when they know that their work will be evaluated regularly and objectively, they are more likely to stay focused, motivated, and committed to achieving excellence.

 

By setting clear expectations and providing constructive feedback, leaders empower their teams to take ownership of their roles and strive for continuous improvement. This culture of accountability not only enhances individual performance but also cultivates a sense of trust and camaraderie among colleagues.

 

“Having those conversations is absolutely critical and managers and leaders need to get better at them because to be honest, many are not,” says Debra, adding some may lack the necessary training. “When you become a manager or move into a leadership role, it’s certainly not everyone’s forte to be very adept at having those difficult conversations.”

 

She says it’s easy to offer praise, but that performance conversations can be much more nuanced when it comes to outlining potential strengths and weaknesses. 

 

“At a minimum, the conversation should be about growth and where you want the role to grow and how do you help guide and mentor them, and what path they should be on,” says Debra. “A lot of times, the problem with people who don’t have performance conversations at all is that they don’t know what the expectations are, so there is a big gap or void, and they may not find out until it’s too late and a termination may be involved.”

 

Managers and leaders too busy

 

She recommends ongoing performance conversations can be far more effective and beneficial – especially for managers - rather than scheduling annual or even quarterly meetings.

 

“The No. 1 reason performance conversations are avoided is because managers and leaders are just too busy, especially if they take this on as a once-a-year project. Even half year or quarterly meetings can suddenly become a time management issue,” she says. “If you’re giving feedback on performance on a regular basis, where people are being guided and informed, it’s not a big scary thing. Even when there might be poor performance involved, you can accomplish it in ways where people are really receptive to it.”

 

Debra says a conversational approach can take a lot of the problematic parts out of the process for the leaders as well as the individuals, providing it’s done in a compassionate and empathetic manner.

 

“There should be some element of careful language and the potential for opportunities to help because sometimes you might have to provide feedback to someone who won’t have the skills set to make those changes unless you actually help put those things in place for them,” she says, adding there are tools available to help leaders who may not have the natural ability to have those difficult conversations. “I feel like conversations don’t happen as easily and as compassionately, or maybe as kind as they used to.”

 

 

Tips for business leaders to enhance their performance management practices:

 

Set Clear Expectations: Clearly define performance expectations for each role within the organization. This includes outlining key responsibilities, goals, and performance indicators. When expectations are transparent, employees understand what is expected of them, leading to better performance outcomes.

 

Regular Feedback: Provide regular and constructive feedback to employees regarding their performance. Feedback should be specific, timely, and focused on both strengths and areas for improvement. Encourage open communication and dialogue to address any concerns and provide support for development.

 

Goal Setting: Collaboratively set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals with employees to align individual objectives with organizational goals. Regularly review progress towards these goals and adjust as necessary to ensure they remain relevant and achievable.

 

Performance Reviews: Conduct periodic performance reviews to assess employee progress, provide feedback, and identify development opportunities. Performance reviews should be conducted in a supportive and objective manner, focusing on accomplishments, challenges, and future goals.

 

Recognition and Rewards: Recognize and reward employees for their contributions and achievements. This can take the form of monetary incentives, promotions, or simply verbal recognition. Acknowledging employee efforts boosts morale and motivation, leading to increased engagement and productivity.

 

Training and Development: Provide opportunities for continuous learning and growth to empower employees to reach their full potential. Development initiatives should be aligned with both individual and organizational goals.

 

Performance Improvement Plans: When performance falls below expectations, work collaboratively with employees to develop performance improvement plans. Clearly outline areas for improvement, set measurable goals, and provide support and resources to facilitate progress. Monitor performance closely and provide ongoing feedback and coaching throughout the improvement process.

 

Data-Driven Insights: Utilize data and analytics to gain insights into employee performance trends and patterns. Analyzing performance metrics can help identify areas of strength and weakness, inform decision-making, and drive continuous improvement efforts.

 

Employee Engagement: Foster a culture of employee engagement and empowerment by involving employees in decision-making processes, soliciting feedback, and recognizing their contributions. Engaged employees are more committed, motivated, and likely to perform at their best.

 

Continuous Monitoring and Adaptation: Regularly review and refine performance management strategies based on feedback, evolving business needs, and industry trends to ensure effectiveness and relevance.

 

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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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Our Chamber of Commerce over the years has not only learned how to pivot, but how to address the concerns, issues and needs of the small and medium-sized businesses in our community.

 

The events of the last few years have only strengthened our reason for being. We not only champion small and medium-sized businesses but are a source of information, guidance, and the most powerful connector there is.

 

We have now taken that connection to a new level thanks to ‘The Link’, a place where YOU, an SME business owner/manager can source solutions in a one-stop shop atmosphere. And since this is Small Business Week (Oct. 15-21), it's very important to always remember and celebrate the contributions SMEs make to our economy.

 

For the last seven months, our Chamber has undertaken this huge project (for us). To say we’re excited is a dramatic understatement because for you, we’ve invested and created an exciting, inspirational space that will not only knock your socks off but provide a place where you can share your troubles and find connections to help you navigate those issues that sometimes surface for every business.

 

At The Link you can source HR solutions, legal forms and information, access grant writing, and discover business services of all types that help you streamline, or even eliminate operational costs, and yes, of course, we also have direct access to financial resources only for business.

 

Another aspect to this renovation project is the creation of additional meeting spaces. We can now offer two boardrooms, one that can seat more than 20 and the other between eight and 10, plus a more informal meeting space for five and a private soundproof meeting “pod” also for up to five people. As well, have casual conversation areas and provide a wonderful coffee service.

 

The Link is modern, accessible, and a great place to have a coffee and share conversation all contained in little over 2,220-square-feet of prime real estate at Highway 401 and Hespeler Road.

 

Along with this incredibly cool and unique space comes some unbeatable programming to help you and your team get onside, get ramped up, and get excited for what comes next.

 

Programming at The Link has already been released and space is very limited, so you need to get in early and make sure there is a seat for you. Our Program Manager, (Amrita Gill), is already developing new and different ways for us to connect with meaning, with passion, and as always, with inspiring ideas.

 

The doors opened Oct. 1 and we already have some committed entities ready to set up shop at The Link, but there may still be room for you and your organization. Do you serve only small and medium-sized business? If so, send me a note and maybe, if all the checkmarks are in place, we may just have a spot for you at The Link, but you need to hurry. Yes, there is a cost because we are not a “funded” organization and our support comes from our membership.

 

Speaking of membership, did you know the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce has NOT increased its membership fees in more than 25 years? Talk about an inflation stopper, wow! That is what serving business means to us. We will always find ways to support you and now we are looking for your support to continue the work we do.

 

So please share your expertise with us and book a pod at The Link, or come in and get help from organizations and businesses that are here for you. Even better, drop in and enjoy a coffee, latte, cappuccino, espresso, or my personal favourite, a mochaccino. Hey, I might even buy you one. See you soon at The Link, 750 Hespeler Rd., the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce.

 

 

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In the opening chapter of The E-Myth Revisited, a nearly 30-year-old book that is still relevant today, author Michael E. Gerber describes “The Entrepreneurial Seizure” or that moment when you decide to go into business for yourself.

 

Once the idea of entrepreneurship enters your mind it is life changing. Your imagination explodes with dreams of independence and success that will flow from turning your technical skills or passions into a be-your-own-boss enterprise. “Do what you love,” they say, “and you will never work another day in your life.”

 

This leads to what Gerber calls “The Fatal Assumption” which is that if you are good at the technical work of a business or are passionate about the work you will offer to the marketplace, then it follows that you will understand the business of delivering your goods or services to your customers. In the early days of your business this assumption can appear to be true. 

 

You launch your business filled with entrepreneurial energy, find customers, provide your products or services, build your reputation, and get more customers.

 

The growth cycle continues. Everyone is happy until one day you discover that your success is crushing you and the fatal assumption is revealed: That the technical skills you have are just one small part a of a complex set of business skills that you need to ensure your success.

 

For you to succeed as an entrepreneur you need the following four foundational elements:

 

  • A good product or service that customers want;
  • The ability to sell and deliver your products or services to your customers with quality and timeliness;
  • The ability to follow your money, understand cashflow, receivables, payables, and taxes and to take action to keep it all in order;
  • The ability to manage and strengthen interpersonal relationship with customers, employees, suppliers, etc.

 

Usually, a business starts with your product or service idea that has market demand or perceived market potential and perhaps you have competency in one of the other three foundational elements. 

 

But no one is proficient in all four so entrepreneurial energy and grit to succeed will only take you so far. Then the weaknesses in your business structure and practices reveal themselves as your business grows and your entrepreneurial dream begins to crack. It happens to all businesses.

 

When your business grows to the point where your success is crushing you, you must make a choice to either:

 

  1. Limit your business size to one you can handle on your own or;
  2. Change your business structure by hiring talent to shore up your weaknesses to enable continued growth.

 

Both options are valid. If you want to be a self-employed technician, where you are in control of your job then option 1 is for you but if your entrepreneurial goals include growth beyond your personal time and talent limitations you must choose option 2.

 

Option 2 requires the strategic hiring of people with talents that you do not have that will enable you to delegate and entrust parts of your business operations to them.

 

This may be accounting, sales, HR, communications and/or production personnel and managers.  Some of these services may be contracted out and some are better achieved if hired into your company. 

 

These are important strategic decisions that will enable you to grow beyond your previous limitations.  As you delegate to competent people your job changes to a true company president.

 

When you have good people in the right places in your business you can look up from your day-to-day operations and look out into the marketplace for new opportunities. Sales grow, production increases, cash flows better, and employees, customers, and vendors are satisfied.

 

This sounds easy, but giving up control of parts of your business to other people is a challenging and necessary growth step for small business entrepreneurs.  You may want to enlist a business coach who can also help you stick to your growth plan when it gets hard, as it always does.

 

Remember, at this stage of your business growth what you really need is good people with leadership skills and business management talents that are different and complimentary to yours so that you can set yourself and your business up for success in the next phase of your entrepreneurial journey.

 

 

Submitted by Murray Smith, President of Blue Cancoe Consulting

 

 

 

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The business landscape is complex and changing, especially today.

 

For smaller businesses, trying to navigate and manoeuvre in this current economy is critical and requires a solid combination of soft and hard skills.

 

Having a mentor, usually a person who has more experience, can provide a small business owner the opportunity to glean an understanding of the best ways to accomplish this.

 

“I’ve had many mentors over the years in different capacities, both on the tech side of the business and some on the leadership side,” says Kristen Danson, Managing Partner of MitoGraphics Inc. in Cambridge. “I believe people either succeed beyond what they know or don’t know and if you only use the knowledge and experience you have, you’re limited in your capacity.”

 

That’s why experts say finding just the right mentor, especially one that is motivated and energized and willing to commit their time, is vital to a successful mentorship. As well, for mentees, dedication, and a willingness to be mentored properly is also just as important which is why having similar backgrounds, skillsets and challenges makes for a good match.

 

“You really have to be careful about that and use your gut check,” says Kristen. “You have to make sure you are taking knowledge from a source that is of a benefit to you.”

 

In terms of finding the right mentor, mapping out your goals and setting clear expectations on how that person can assist you is important. Kristen agrees and says most of her mentors have come from relationships she has cultivated over the years through her industry and member associations.

 

“I’ve never been afraid over the years to approach someone at an industry event, someone I can connect with for guidance and leadership advice,” she says. “Sometimes you may have to do that because you don’t have an existing relationship with that person, but you recognize there are traits or experiences you want to benefit from that they have.”

 

While social media has made it easier to make those important connections with others outside of your immediate circle, Kristen says strong mentorships can also be created within your own business by the people you hire.

 

“I hope that I have mentored people over the years,” she says. “But I’ve had employees as mentors because they’ve worked for bigger companies or different places in my industry and can provide that ‘wait a minute’ advice noting other printing companies may do things another way.”

 

She says having supportive feedback can help create efficiencies which in turn benefits the business and adds that mentorship is a two-way street, something the Cambridge of Chamber of Commerce has recognized in the creation of its new Chamber Circles mentoring program. The program sees participants ‘matched’ with a mentor for monthly discussions on a variety of pre-selected topics to help foster professional and personal growth.

 

“Partnerships are not one-sided. That’s why mentoring circles are so important,” says Kristen. “I firmly believe those exchanges of information are always circular.”

 

 

How can mentors help

 

  • Learn from their expertise. A mentor can help you acquire new skills, knowledge, and perspectives that can enhance your professional growth and performance. They can also share with you their best practices, tips, and tricks, as well as their mistakes and lessons learned.
  • Receive constructive feedback. A mentor can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses and suggest ways to improve them. They can also help you set realistic and achievable goals and monitor your progress and achievements.
  • Expand your network. A mentor can introduce you to other professionals, organizations, and resources that can be useful for your career advancement and development. By expanding your network, you can increase your visibility, credibility, and reputation in your field, and access more opportunities and benefits.
  • Gain emotional support. A mentor can be a trusted ally, friend, and confidant, who can listen to your concerns, frustrations, and aspirations, and offer you empathy, advice, and inspiration. By gaining emotional support, you can reduce your stress, anxiety, and burnout, and enhance your well-being, happiness, and satisfaction.
  • How to find a mentor. To find a mentor who matches your needs and goals, you should first identify your objectives and expectations. Then, look for potential mentors in your field, such as alumni networks, professional associations, or online platforms. Once you have found a mentor, stay in touch with them regularly and follow their guidance and feedback.

 

Source: LinkedIn

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The much-anticipated introduction of the Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care plan and its goal to introduce its $10 a-day program by 2026 has created a higher demand for spaces as regulated child-care facilities struggle to find qualified staff, which in turn has impacted the economy as parents, many of them women, forgo entering or re-entering the workforce to stay home with their children.

 

“As the plan was introduced right at the beginning of 2023 fees have been cut in half and that has opened up the opportunity for a lot more families to access care that couldn’t, or didn’t, in the past,” says YWCA Cambridge CEO Kim Decker, noting the long wait lists it has created at the organization’s four school-based centres. “We now have parents calling us when they find out they are pregnant to see if they can get their kids on the list for child care because there just aren’t enough spaces.”

 

She says the national plan is being implemented in different ways by provinces and territories, explaining the political ‘will’ of each is dictating what level of success they will reach. In Ontario, which committed to reach $10 per day and create 86,000 new spaces by 2026 when it secured a deal last March with the Government of Canada, Kim says the plan has fallen short.

 

“It’s a status quo funding model and there’s no real opportunity for growth,” she says. “There needs to be a growth plan that accompanies this.”

 

Child-care ‘deserts’ created

 

Kim says the national plan was put in place to not only reduce fees for parents, but create spaces, particularly for those living in underserviced areas. Quoting a report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Kim says 53% of younger children in the province reside in child-care ‘deserts’, adding that Kitchener-Waterloo was identified in the report as being underserviced, despite a push by the Region of Waterloo to the Province to provide more spaces.

 

“Right now, we know that from 2024 to 2026, we will only get another 200 spaces,” she says, adding other local licensed child-care providers are also experiencing space shortages.

 

Kim says the economic impacts of these shortages are being amplified as more companies continue to call employees back to the workplace, explaining that many parents had taken their children out of child care when the pandemic hit but now can no longer find them spaces.

 

“This has disproportionately impacted women because if a family has choices, I will say in most cases it will be the women who will have to make the decision to give up their careers and stay home,” she says. “It’s going to affect the economy and women need to be a big part of our economy if it is going to remain strong.”

 

Chamber submits national policy

 

In effort to alleviate the problem, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce has submitted a national policy to be considered by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce network at its AGM this fall in Calgary, Alta. Included among our recommendations is a call for the federal and provincial/territorial governments to work together to investigate the possibility of providing subsidization for ECE (early childhood educators) wages and the creation of a fully funded pension and benefits plan in effort to attract more workers into the child-care sector with the goal of reducing wait lists.

 

Labour shortages in terms of attraction and the retention of qualified ECEs has compounded the issue of growing wait lists. As noted in a recent response released by the YWCA Ontario Coalition to the Province regarding its CWELCC discussion paper on the child-care funding formula, the group identified the fact the plan is based on operating capacity rather than licensed capacity. YWCA Ontario’s response states many Ontario child-care operators are operating below licensed capacity due to recruitment and retention issues yet must still bear the costs of maintaining rooms and unoccupied spaces which makes it difficult to hire additional staff to fill those empty spaces.

 

YWCA dealing with staffing crisis

 

“We are in a staffing crisis right now,” says Kim, adding the local YWCA has used reserved funds to hire someone to work with its director of child-care services on recruitment and retention. “We need to be able to staff the spaces we already have.”

 

The Province has set a wage floor of $18 an hour for ECEs, with Ontario’s Minister of Education Stephen Lecce recently announcing an increase of $1 a year annually up to $25.

 

“That’s not going to work,” says Kim. “It needs a whole new way of thinking and a whole new strategy, and a real commitment to paying people what they are worth.”

 

The Association of Early Childhood Educators of Ontario has called for a minimum of $30 an hour for ECEs and $25 an hour for non-ECE staff members. Either one or two of the workers in a child-care room are required to be an ECE, depending on the age of the children.

 

“They have the responsibility for our youngest learners and creating a foundation and baseline for them going forward. It is a really important job and for a very long time, we’ve devalued the work child-care workers provide in our community,” says Kim, adding how local child-care workers were one of the first groups to return to work a few months after the pandemic began in 2020, allowing parents to get back to work sooner. “I think the pandemic also shone a light on how the whole care economy has been underpaid for a really long period of time and child care is part of that.”

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Mental health in the workplace continues to be a major focus, especially as businesses continue to deal with labour shortages and adapt to hybrid work models.

 

“You have to prioritize it,” says Robyn Schwarz, Fund Development, Advocacy, and Communications Lead at Porchlight Counselling Addictions Services in Cambridge. “You have to see it as something you need to learn, the same way you need to learn anything else to grow your business.”

 

Despite the fact the pandemic is considered a thing of the past, she says for some fears and concerns surrounding COVID-19 – especially for those with ongoing health issues - continue to impact their mental health.

 

“I like to think the pandemic really escalated a lot of stressors and acted almost like a catalyst for things that were already just under the surface in our lives,” says Robyn, referring to it as “collective trauma” for the community in general.

 

She says for working parents who had to find ways to support their children through school lockdowns while trying to balance their work life, it has proven particularly hard as they face rising costs. In fact, according to a recent Wellbeing Waterloo Region report Cambridge residents, despite having lower income levels, work more hours to make ends meet. The report shows 6.2% work 55 hours a week or more at than their main job and a 28.3% of respondents work 20 or more hours a week at a second job.

 

“I think as a community, we’re trying to figure out what do our lives look after this while also really struggling cognitively with our brains,” says Robyn.

 

As a result, she says it’s important for employers to be able to read the signs an employee may be dealing with mental health issues.

 

“Looking at different behavioural changes can be really helpful,” says Robyn, noting that sudden tardiness, anger issues, or signs often associated with being a ‘bad’ employee could really indicate a mental health concern. “A mental health issue is one of those things that shows up so different with everyone and we all have different understandings of what emotional dysregulation look likes.”

 

As well, she says addiction issues could also be a byproduct as employees try to find ways to cope with anxiety and depression.

 

“A couple of things we’re hearing in the community is an increase in normalized addictions because many people were at home during the pandemic,” she says, referring to alcohol consumption. “That is something we’ve been really concerned about because it’s something you can hide really easily until it becomes life or death.”

 

As a result, she says creating a supportive workplace environment through trust and open communication is important for an employee to address their mental health issues.

 

“It’s all about finding ways to build those spaces into your work and obviously, every workplace is different. There is no one ‘right’ way to do this,” says Robyn. “It’s about knowing how to talk about mental health and being able to communicate that in a kind and compassionate way. Many employers themselves are also under stress and when an employee knows that they can mutually support each other.”

 

She says just sending employees emails with links to mental health resources isn’t enough, and in fact, could exacerbate the situation.

 

“In that case, you’re putting the onus on your employee to do something that they might not even have the capacity to do and you’re also creating a situation where they feel you’re actually giving them more work to do.”

 

Finding resources can be difficult, says Robyn, noting that private therapy in Canada can cost between $160 to $250 an hour, and that on average between six to 10 sessions are usually needed for a person to make any progress.

 

“Most benefit packages I know, unless you work for a very large corporation, cover perhaps $500 a year,” she says, adding Porchlight, which offers a variety of services, is a good place to discover local resources. “The system right now is a great big puzzle and is very confusing, so an organization like ours we can do the heavy lifting for people to help them access affordable mental health and addictions support.”

 

 

Recommendations from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s Mental Wellness in the Workplace: A Playbook for SMEs

 

Develop a comprehensive mental health strategy

•    Develop a mental health strategy that is linked to your EDI strategy.
•    Measure baseline workforce mental health through qualitative (e.g., regular pulse checks and surveys) and quantitative measures (e.g., absenteeism, presenteeism, short- and long-term disability, etc.).
•    Set specific performance targets based on baseline data and the unique needs of your organization and employees.
•    Monitor progress to assess whether intended outcomes were achieved and what steps are needed to improve psychological health and safety.

 

Build a psychologically healthy and safe workplace culture

•    Invest in mental health training to ensure leaders can recognize distress and support employees.
•    Pay attention to the quality of social connections and consider team building options (that adhere to public health guidelines) to foster camaraderie.
•    Encourage employees to practice self-care that includes daily relaxation to decrease stress and healthy habits (e.g., adequate sleep, exercise, etc.).
•    Consider small gestures of appreciation (e.g., a gift card or simple “thank you”), which can impact someone’s day.
•    Consider building a mental health committee or peer support program.

 

Communicate widely, regularly, and effectively

•    Encourage leaders to model open and authentic communication about their mental health challenges – to reduce stigma and encourage employees to seek support.
•    Create spaces for conversation between leaders and employees to share how they feel, check-in with one another, and build a sense of community.
•    Repeat key messages throughout the year to create lasting cultural change and using various formats (e.g., team meetings, posters, etc.)

 

Ensure adequate resources and supports for employees and their families

•    Ensure supports are varied, visible, and accessible – in-person and virtually.
•    Invest in leaders’ wellbeing so they can provide support to employees.
•    Support employees along the full continuum of mental health – from prevention to early intervention to recovery.
•    Review your company’s health plan with your benefits administrator to examine what supports you currently provide and what could be added.

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The minimum wage in Ontario will increase on Oct. 1 to $16.55 an hour and could impact many businesses and their customers.

 

“I think we’ll be fine because I’m confident with our business model and location, but I think it’s going to affect some businesses dramatically because there is no way there can’t be an increase in prices on goods and services,” says Matt Rolleman, a Chamber Member and co-owner of Thirteen at the corner of Water and Main streets in Galt, noting like many restaurants the majority of his staff currently is paid above minimum wage.

 

While the same holds true for many tourism and hospitality businesses, the Tourism Industry of Association of Ontario (TIAO) says it will continue to advocate for tax reforms and other measures to help offset rising commercial costs and supply chain disruptions while promoting business growth.

 

“We’re constantly hearing from businesses about the rising cost of doing business, from paying down pandemic debt to supply chain disruptions that affect the availability of key goods and products, unaffordable commercial insurance premiums, and reduced liability coverage that may impact the scope of what operators can offer in the visitor experience,” says Dr. Jessica Ng, Director, Policy & Government Affairs for TIAO. “The labour crisis has only added to these costs, as businesses look for ways to recruit and retain the staff they need.”

 

She says reviewing compensation structures is one strategy to make tourism and hospitality jobs more attractive and sustainable.

 

“You have to try and pay people for their value, or perceived value,” says Matt, adding it is likely increases will be implemented for all his staff as minimum wage hikes close the salary gap between employees. “We’re doing our best to keep our prices where they are right now, but costs have gone through the roof and trying to manage all these things for all businesses has just become more tougher.”

 

Matt says the timing of the wage hike this coming fall so close to the December 2023 CEBA (Canadian Emergency Business Account) loan repayment deadline may also be an issue for many small businesses.

 

“For businesses that rely on part-time minimum wage workers there’s no way they cannot raise their prices,” he says, adding while boosting minimum wage is necessary to help ensure people can pay their bills, the way increases are introduced leaves a lot to be desired.

 

“It’s become too politicized,” says Matt, noting if it was indexed with a cost of living increase it may be easier to plan for it. “Businesses would expect it every year and maybe we wouldn’t have to have these huge increases that sensationalize the whole issue.”

 

 

We reached out to Chamber Member Jason Kingston, partner at the accounting firm Grant Thornton LLP, to get his perspective on this latest minimum wage hike:

 

Q.  What do you see as one of the biggest impacts raising Ontario’s minimum wage will have on businesses?

 

A.  Minimum wage increases are always a hot-button topic, with researchers and think tanks releasing contradictory articles and papers ranging from an increase causing either complete economic collapse or being the gateway to an economic utopia. That being said, the largest impact on businesses will be that those who rely on minimum wage earners as their employment pool will need to plan on how they are going to absorb the additional cost.

 

Q.  Are most businesses prepared for this minimum wage boost?

 

A.  I would say that many small businesses are not prepared. Could they have been? Undoubtedly. If a business is dependent on the portion of the labour pool who earn the minimum wage, then that business should always be prepared for increases. I think if you look back over the last decade, it’s easy to see more momentum towards increasing minimum wages and aiming towards a living wage, which is still projected as being much higher than the newly increased minimum wage point.

 

Q.  Could the Province have implemented a minimum wage increase in another way?

 

A.  An increase in the minimum wage does make sense, though the extent of the increase can be argued. The average wage increase, across the Ontario labour market in 2022 has been pegged by many as approximately 4%.

A minimum wage increase is an easy solution for the government. It allows them to say that they’re doing their part to combat poverty and wealth inequality. But ultimately it puts the burden on employers, not the government itself, and it still falls far short. For example, under the increased minimum wage the monthly gross income of a full-time employee will be about $2,800. The average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in our region is $1,950 per month. It isn’t hard to see the challenges here.

I think there are larger issues surrounding minimum wage and its purpose and policy reasons which the government should examine.

Common alternatives to minimum wages which are commonly discussed are introducing more collective bargaining options for employee groups, introducing a universal basic income or other government supports for low-income individuals, etc., but these also introduce challenges and differing opinions.

 

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The concept of a four-day work week has been gaining attention in Ontario, thanks in part to the decision by at least seven municipalities that are now offering their staff the flexibility of that option.

 

But the merits of such a system, which has become commonplace in many European countries including Denmark, Germany, Norway, and the Netherlands, is the subject of much debate among critics and advocates in North America.

 

While there are those who believe implementing a shorter work week is impossible in many sectors resulting in additional costs for overtime or hiring more staff, not to mention placing more stress on employees to get their work done in a shorter time frame, others insist such a system creates a better life balance and overall sense of wellbeing that can inspire increased productivity.

 

“There has been a lot of upheaval in workplaces which has opened the doors to rethinking arrangements,” says Ellen Russell, Associate Professor of Digital Media & Journalism at Wilfrid Laurier University and a labour market and economics expert.

 

She believes the next generation of employees may not understand the need to have arbitrary time limits placed on their work hours. “If there is not a reason then my guess is these future workers would really find it strange to be so arbitrary for no apparent reason,” says Ellen.

 

This is a subject Joe O’Connor, Director and Co-founder of the Work Time Reduction Center of Excellence (WTRCE), is more than familiar.

 

As the former CEO of 4 Day Week Global, which has been leading four-day work week trial programs with businesses worldwide, including 10 in Canada, he is a strong believer in the concept and through the WTRCE has been partnering with organizations to support their transformation to a shorter work week.

 

His organization is a proponent of reduced work hours schedules, not just a compressed model where employees are required to work 10-hour days four days a week.

 

“Arguably, post COVID-19 quality of life is now the new frontier of competition,” says Joe, adding for many workers it means more than compensation. “One of the things I have observed is the shift towards embracing shorter work weeks has happened at all three traditional layers of the organization.”

 

He believes business leaders have become more ‘open’ to it because they see the potential benefits in terms of attracting and retaining talent, and that many managers are more comfortable with this type of system because they are now familiar with measuring outputs rather the length of time people spend at their desk.

 

“For the employees, it’s really the demand effect. The value people have placed on time as a benefit has greatly increased because of what people experienced during the pandemic,” says Joe.

 

But he is quick to point out there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution when it comes to implementing a shorter work week.

 

“This is not something that should be implemented the same way from business to business, and industry to industry,” he says, adding in larger organizations work models could even vary between departments. “There will still be a need to facilitate different kinds of irregular work patterns based on business needs and employee preferences.”

 

Employee support is key says Joe when it comes to implementing such a drastic change, which means taking a hard look at how an organization operates, noting that introducing a shorter work week could be met with fear and skepticism.

 

“This is something that really works in organizations with very strong work cultures,” he says, adding going through a thorough evaluation process can galvanize a team as efficiencies are found so they can accommodate that addtional time off. “There is a real collectiveness at the heart of this and it relies on a commitment within teams and departments to find ways to change how they do things together to make it a success.”

 

Joe is confident within the next few years shorter work weeks will be the norm in sectors like information and communication technologies, software companies, and financial services. He also notes that two Canadian law firms, YLaw in B.C. and The Ross Firm in Ontario, have both switched to a four-day work week, something many in the legal industry deemed would be impossible due their current billing systems.

Joe says YLaw accomplished this shift by finding efficiencies in its operations and the latter firm did it by implementing a fixed fee billing system.

 

“My prediction is that in five years’ time, this is going to be the norm in some sectors and in 10 years it’s going to be more common than a five-day week,” says Joe, adding the potential is there to implement this concept in many sectors, including manufacturing. “I think there is an opportunity here for proactive leaders and strong organizations. Now is the time to really set yourself apart from the competition.”

 

 

Pros of a four-day work week

  • Productivity may increase
  • Workers can take care of medical and other appointments on their days off
  • Recruitment and retention may be easier by offering flexible work hours
  • Reduced stress and a better life-work balance, allowing employees more time for other activities and hobbies
  • Commuting less by employees could have environmental benefits

 

Cons of a four-day work week

  • For hourly paid jobs, employers should check if they will need to pay overtime if staff work 10 hours a day
  • If may be difficult to find daycare open for a 10-hour day to meet childcare needs
  • Working longer days or trying to complete tasks in a shorter timeframe could have health impacts
  • This may not work for all industries, such as farming, customer service and restaurants
  • Ensuring customer and client coverage can require scheduling employees over different workdays

 

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