Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Algorithms a concern

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Official policy needed

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Employees require training

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

AI hurdles in business

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Read the report.

 

Outlook highlights: 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

AI and digital technologies

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Click here to read the report.

 

 

Highlights of the report:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

AI gaining importance

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Managing performance key

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Job Market Trends 

 

Hybrid Work Models

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

 

Employee Well-being Takes Centre Stage

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

 

Continuous Learning and Development

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

 

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)

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

 

Emphasis on Employee Experience

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

 

Remote Employee Engagement

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

 

Job Search and Career Success Hinge on Ethics

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

 

 ‘The Great Stay’

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Click here to submit a nomination.

 

 

Award Categories and Criteria:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Tips for avoiding hiring mistakes

 

Define Clear Job Requirements

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

 

Create a Comprehensive Recruitment Strategy

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

 

Leverage Technology

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

 

Thoroughly Assess Cultural Fit

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

 

Conduct Behavioural Interviews

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

 

Check References Thoroughly

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

 

Utilize Probationary Periods

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

 

Invest in Continuous Training for Hiring Managers

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

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This blog represents the second part of a two-part series on protecting your business. 

 

Operating a business is difficult enough in the current climate, especially as business leaders navigate ongoing economic, labour and supply chain issues. 

 

As a result, keeping their businesses secure and safe from potential criminal threats may not be front and centre, suggests John Burdett, President of Seamless Security Inc. in Cambridge.

 

“Times are difficult for everybody and there are cost pressures for everybody,” he says. “Security is typically not the first thing people want to spend money on, but at some point, if people are calling me, they realize they do have a need for it.”

 

That need appears to be becoming more apparent, taking into consideration local crime statistics. According to the Waterloo Region Police Service (WRPS), since January 2023 to the start of December 2023, officers responded to 21 reports of robberies at commercial properties – not including banks or financial businesses – and 338 reports of commercial property thefts, excluding shoplifting incidents. The WRPS’ 2022 annual report indicates a total of 286 robberies.

 

At the Chamber’s Conversations That Matter lunch Jan. 25 at Tapestry Hall (Tap Room), former Waterloo Region police chief Bryan Larkin, now Deputy Commissioner, Specialized Policing Services RCMP, will discuss the impact crime rates have on the local business community. 

 

“Many of my clients are larger warehouse and distribution facilities, but I’m seeing the issues with them going down and issues with smaller businesses going up,” says John. “There seems to be less internal theft issues and a lot more external theft issues happening these days.”

 

But when it comes to security systems for smaller businesses, he recommends operators may wish to start small.

 

“You really want to know how you’re going to use your security system, especially if you don’t have one already,” says John, adding having an expandable system is a good course of action. “You can always add to it later if you have the right system in place. People don’t have to necessarily spend the bank on their system. But, if you have millions of dollars of inventory to protect, you’re probably going to spend a bit more.”

 

He says deterrence is a key factor for many businesses when it comes to selecting a security system.

 

“Anything to try and get that person to ‘move on’ before they commit the crime is going to be the optimum outcome,” says John, explaining he works closely with potential clients to determine their specific needs. “A few tweaks to what you already have may be sufficient to achieve your goals. It depends on the issues you’re trying to combat.”

 

That ‘tweak’ could also include procedural changes to the way a business operates which he says could minimize the threat of potential losses.

 

“What do you keep on site? What is visible from the window? What type of lighting do you have? There are all sorts of these types of factors that come into play,” says John, adding a theft may be less detrimental to the business compared to the after-effects. “A business could be out of business for a couple of days while they replace windows, or if their point-of-sale systems have been smashed. This could have a bigger financial impact on the business than the actual theft itself.”

 

Security tips for businesses

 

1. Check Doors and Windows

Consider installing doors made from reinforced wood or steel. If your doors are made from glass, roll-down safety gates may be an option. You could also consider reinforcing frames with metal plates and reinforced strike boxes. If you have a room where a safe or other valuables are stored, consider investing in stronger interior doors for these areas.

 

?2. Upgrade to Smart Locks

For an added alarm system, smart locks can help as a measure for improved access control. As an additional benefit, smart locks can keep access records, so you know who is accessing which door at different times.

 

3. Install Alarm Cameras

With strategically placed cameras, you can capture important evidence against potential shoplifters, violent criminals, vandals, burglars, and employees that may commit crimes. Also, CCTV cameras offer considerable value because they are one of the most effective crime deterrents. 

 

4. Manage Valuable Assets

You could rethink your practices when it comes to handling cash. When you consider expensive equipment or high-value inventory, you need to think about how you store these items and anything of exceptional value should be kept out of sight from the windows when the business is closed.

 

5. Improve Exterior Lighting

Consider adding lights in areas that are dark and make sure your side and back exits are well lit. Installing motion lights in areas that do not see much traffic may also help. Smart lights can mimic the activity of an occupied structure, and this will give burglars the impression that there are people there when the building is empty.

 

6. Nightly Safety Protocols

Set a specific routine for closing time and teach it to any employee who may need to close the business for the night. Your nightly safety protocols should consist of checking and locking all doors and windows, securing valuable assets, checking different areas of the property for small business security issues, setting the wireless alarm, and more.

 

7. Install Affordable Alarm Systems

Even if your business already has an alarm system, you may want to consider its age. Surveillance system technology has come a long way in the last few years, and there could be significant benefits to upgrading to a smart alarm system that is customized for the needs of your business

 

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In this digital landscape, businesses are increasingly reliant on web-based platforms for their operations, communication, and customer interactions.

 

While this technological shift has brought convenience and efficiency, it has also opened the floodgates to a myriad of cyber threats – many no longer just centred on email-based breaches. 

 

As the digital realm expands, the need for robust web-based security becomes paramount for businesses of all sizes due to the escalating frequency and sophistication of cyberattacks.

 

Hackers are becoming more adept at exploiting vulnerabilities, often targeting sensitive data such as customer information, financial records, and intellectual property. The consequences of a successful cyberattack can be devastating, ranging from financial losses and reputational damage to legal repercussions.

 

These security breaches can erode customer trust and a single security incident can shatter the perception of a business as a reliable custodian of sensitive information, leading to a loss of clientele and tarnished brand image.

 

To address these challenges, businesses need to invest in cutting-edge web security solutions. These include regularly updating software and systems, implementing multi-factor authentication, encrypting sensitive data, and conducting regular security audits. Collaborating with cybersecurity experts and staying abreast of the latest threats intelligence is equally crucial in maintaining a proactive defence against emerging cyber hazards.

 

 

We asked John Svazic, Founder and Principal Consultant of EliteSec Information Security Consultants Inc. in Cambridge to share his thoughts on what businesses can do to ensure they are prepared for potential web-based security threats:

 

 

Q. When did more browser-based cyber threats begin to surface as opposed to spam emails?

 

A. This is a hard question to answer, but these types of attacks aren't new and have been around for a while, likely since the early 2000s at least, but not in any volume.  Most cyber-criminal attacks are based on opportunity and ease, so the rise can generally be attributed to companies adding more sophistication to their websites, especially as they try to go online.  

 

Q.  What brought on this apparent shift?

 

A. Opportunity is the biggest reason here.  With the rush to go online, which the pandemic only exacerbated, some companies may be taking shortcuts to get online by going with free/low- cost options to maintain margins.  While I can sympathize with this point, losing most of your margins to fraud may be reason to re-evaluate.

 

Q. Are there warning signs business owners should watch for indicating they might be susceptible to an attack?

 

AUnfortunately, not. The best way to prevent this is to go look for vulnerabilities yourself or get someone who is skilled to go looking for you.  Having said that there are a few things that can be done on your own to better protect yourself, including:

 

  • Making sure all your software is up to date. This is especially important if you are using a Wordpress site to host your online presence. Making sure any plug-ins or add-ons that you are using are up to date is important.
  • Protect your online social media with two-factor authentication (2FA). Yes, this can be annoying, but it is a proven way to protect your accounts. Nothing is more painful than trying to get your Facebook or Instagram account back from a hacker, and many companies either pay up or are forced to create new accounts.
  • Never re-use passwords!  Getting a password manager is incredibly useful to prevent this and provides a great way to help share accounts between employees if necessary. Most can help store your 2FA code as well, so you don't need to share a single phone between individuals.
  • Hire a security professional to do a vulnerability assessment or penetration test of your web presence. Be sure that they are qualified by asking for references and samples of their work.  This is the costliest option but one worth considering if you want to be sure.

 

Q. What is one of the first steps they should take in terms of boosting their security?

 

A. Make sure that whatever you're using is fully patched. If this is offloaded to a hosting company or some other third-party provider, ask them what their patch cycle is. How frequently do they update, and do they do any third-party testing of their own infrastructure?  If a company is doing online sales, using a trusted partner like Shopify, Squarespace, etc., is a great way to check these boxes as these are reputable firms that take security seriously, which helps to offload the risk to someone else, albeit at a cost. 

 

Q. Are smaller businesses more susceptible to potential attacks than larger ones?

 

A. Sadly yes. While news headlines often focus on bigger named companies getting hacked and having to pay ransoms, the reality is that hundreds of smaller companies are getting hacked each day and not making headlines because they're just not big enough to report on, or they're too scared to report the attacks themselves out of fear of losing customers/reputation. Smaller companies often lack the resources or money to seek out help, so it can be a real catch-22.

 

Q.  If an attack has occurred, what should be the first step a business owner should take?

 

A. First check your business insurance to see if you have cyber insurance. Often, these policies will dictate who to call and what to do. Many brokers will recommend this type of insurance if you have an online presence, so it never hurts to start there. As most of these attackers are coming from outside the country, law enforcement won't necessarily be able to help, but report a cybercrime.  Start with the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security and report the incident. I would then recommend reaching out to a cybersecurity professional that specializes in incident response to help rectify the situation. Again, if you have a cyber insurance policy, this should be covered by insurance.

 

Q. Is it possible to become too paranoid regarding cyberattacks?

 

A. Absolutely. But it's best to always put things into perspective before things become too overwhelming. If you take some basic precautions, you can put most of these concerns aside.  It's always about perspective and the realization that raising the bar on cybersecurity isn't hard, and even small changes can deter potential attackers. Most cyber criminals are lazy, so they won't put in a lot of effort for minimal rewards. But if they can pull of a hack because it's easy, then they're willing to put in the effort for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars of potential payoff.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Be Approachable:

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

 

Stay Professional:

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

 

Prepare An Elevator Pitch:

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

 

Dress for Success:

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

 

Limit Your Smartphone Use:

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

 

Update Your Business Cards:

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

 

Express Gratitude:

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

 

Set Realistic Goals:

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

 

Join Online Networking Events:

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

 

Utilize Social Media:

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

 

Follow Up:

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

 

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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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