Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

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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The following piece is one of several that appears in the special summer edition of  our INSIGHT Magazine celebrating Cambridge’s 50th anniversary as we recognize just a few of the people, businesses and institutions that have made our community great.

 

As dignitaries gathered for the ground-breaking ceremony of Toyota Motor Corporation’s much anticipated Cambridge assembly plant on May 6, 1986, the Waterloo Record reported that four windsocks painted to look like fish hung outside the tent where officials had gathered.

 

Called ‘koinobori’ or carp streamer, Toyota Motor Corporation’s late president Dr. Shoichiro Toyoda explained the significance of the gesture, noting the fish is known as one that fights its way, even up a waterfall.

 

“The carp streamer is used as a symbol of vitality for parents who wish good health and strong development for their children,” he was quoted at the time. “We have hoisted the koinobori here in the hope that our company will grow to become a business appreciated and respected by everyone as a whole.”

 

Nearly 40 years later, it’s clear this ‘hope’ for success has manifested as Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada Inc. continues to be a major industry and economic leader, and community partner for Cambridge and southwestern Ontario as a whole.

 

From the moment the first Corolla rolled off the assembly line at its Cambridge facility shortly before 10 a.m. on Nov. 30, 1988, the company has continually succeeded creating hundreds of new jobs over the years through the expansion of new product lines.

 

Cambridge was selected from over 40 municipalities in Canada for the plant and federal government incentives were a consideration. Former Cambridge MP Chris Speyer, quoted in an article in the Dec. 12, 1985, edition of the Cambridge Reporter announcing the news, said there were incentives in the contract to encourage Toyota to buy Canadian parts and that the provincial government would contribute $15 million over five years toward a program to train Ontario workers.

 

“I’m extraordinarily proud of our community that Toyota would choose us to locate such a major enterprise. This is the happiest day of my political career,” he told the Reporter, before describing the “tremendous positive impact” the plant would have on the local economy, noting the average salaries at that time would range from between $25,000 to $30,000.

 

“Just think of what that means to housing in our area, to shopping and small business as well as the spin-off effect by other industries locating within our area in order to service Toyota,” said Speyer.

 

The Cambridge plant was expected, in the beginning, to produce 50,000 cars a year with the capacity to reach 100,000 when market conditions permitted, providing work for 1,000 employees.

 

In a Reporter article published a year before the plant opened, it was reported that a progress report indicated it would provide 1,000 direct manufacturing jobs that would result in another 2,000 new jobs in the automotive and service industry.

 

To date, TMMC now employs more than 8,500 people across its three production lines in Cambridge and Woodstock. In Cambridge alone, its North and South plants encompass three million square feet on 400 acres located at the corner of Maple Grove Road and Fountain Street North.

 

The company, which has won numerous awards recognizing it as a ‘top employer’ and ‘greenest employer’, continues to thrive and evolve.

 

In August of last year, it marked a special anniversary when a red Lexus NX 350h hybrid electric luxury SUV, rolled off the line in Cambridge representing the 10th million vehicle produced by TMMC.

 

“Today’s milestone speaks to how far Toyota’s manufacturing operations in Canada have come over the past three decades,” said TMMC President Frank Voss in a press release at the time. “In 1988, the year we opened our first plant in Cambridge, our team members built 153 Toyota Corollas and it took over 11 years to produce our first 11 million vehicles. Today, we’re Canada’s largest automaker and leading maker of electrified vehicles, building half a million Toyota and Lexus vehicles for the North American market every year. Our world-class team members have been trusted to build some of the most popular vehicles in North America and that’s something we’re very proud of.”

 

 

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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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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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A recent report released by the Conference Board of Canada indicates Waterloo Region’s economy will be slower this year but predicts it will outpace the provincial economy.

 

While the impact of a potential slowdown is a concern, one of the key issues for local businesses remains a shortage of workers.

 

The unemployment rate in our region hit 5.5% in 2022, compared to 6.5% in 2021 and 9.6% in 2020. This year, it’s expected to reach 5.8%.

 

Provincewide, the latest numbers from Statistics Canada showed there were 372,000 job vacancies during the third quarter of 2022, nearly double the average of vacancies (195,000) reported during the three years leading up to 2020.

 

In effort to provide local employers with another avenue to find talent, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce recently launched its online job portal.

 

“Labour shortages continue to be an issue in so many sectors,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher. “By providing as many opportunities as possible for local employers to find the help they require is a benefit to our business community as a whole and we’re glad to be able to offer this service.”

 

The easy-to-use portal can be accessed by the public to search and apply for positions posted by Chamber Members in a variety of sectors. 

 

Chamber Members can upload and manage their own posts, which includes contact information and job descriptions.

 

The system allows job seekers to search for positions in Waterloo Region and the surrounding area.

 

Current posts feature jobs in several sectors, including the financial, insurance, medical and automobile industries.

 

“It’s a very user-friendly system giving our Members the ability to post multiple job opportunities,” says Greg, noting the Chamber does not manage the posts itself.

 

Visit the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce job portal to learn more.

 

 

A few facts and figures:

  • In Waterloo Region, the employment rate in 2022 rose by 10,700 jobs (3.3%) to a record 332,140, compared to an increase of 15,250 jobs (5%) in 2021.
  • Overall employment is in our region is expected to increase by 1% this year due to 4,250 jobs in finance, insurance, and real estate, as well as 3,300 jobs in manufacturing.
  • 60% of the job vacancies in Ontario require no more than high school education, paying on average less than $20 an hour. 
  • Nearly 200,000 jobs require less than one year of experience.
  • More than one-third of the job vacancies are in sales and service.
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The living wage in Waterloo Region has increased to $19.95 an hour, according to the latest report from the Ontario Living Wage Network, which represents an increase of $2.75 from 2021.

 

But what impact this hike has on businesses that are certified living wage employers, or those considering a certification, continues to be weighed.

 

“It depends on the nature of the business,” says Jason Dean, Assistant Professor of Economics at King’s University College at Western, who also teaches at Wilfrid Laurier University, and notes that maximizing profits is the key focus of any business. “Any economist would tell you that profit is good in the sense it ensures as a society that our scarce resources are used efficiently, so without profit, we would not have that.”

 

However, Jason says increasing wages can be done in a way that it can boost the bottom line of a business.

 

“In principle, if you do it right, it can be a benefit to business,” he says.

 

Sabrina McGregor, Branch Manager, YNCU in Cambridge, agrees.

 

“By providing a living a wage, we’re helping reduce stress as many have struggled with increased costs,” she says. “Our employees are very important to us; we want to make sure they have the tools to thrive inside and outside of work.”

 

YNCU is one of about a dozen businesses in Cambridge that are certified with the Ontario Living Wage Network, which charges annually between $100 to $1,000 depending on the size of the private sector business. (Lower rates apply for public sector businesses and non-profits).

 

“We want all of our workers to feel empowered by their employer so they can flourish in our communities,” says Sabrina, noting taking this step helps improve health and morale within the workplace.

 

Stephanie Soulis, founder, and CEO of Little Mushroom Catering, which has provided a living wage to employees since 2017, says it’s something that has always fit nicely within her business plan.

 

“When we started out, we knew we wanted to be a socially responsible business in that paying a living wage makes sense. It fits our culture,” she says, adding she does understand why businesses with many part time workers would find it hard to justify an hourly rate of $19.95. “But I’m also one of those businesses. I have a lot of 18-year-olds who work for me and are living at home with their parents, and they still need to pay car insurance and try to save up money so they can move out.”

 

Sabrina says the minimum wage is not a living wage and providing one can help companies save on things like vacant positions, training, and recruitment.

 

“It should be helping with things like retention and talent attraction. We’d like to think it does but there is definitely a labour war going on,” says Stephanie, noting more restaurants and event companies are now paying higher wages. “In the last four or five months we’ve noticed a big shift. But even with the minimum wage being $15.50 and living wage now $19.95, there’s still that middle ground where other restaurants and event companies are going to pay a bit more than minimum wage – say around $17 – so we still have a bit of that leading edge advantage.”

 

As well as attracting more talent, she says being part of a growing network of businesses has resulted in her company being sought ought by others, both in and outside of the network.

 

“We have many companies, especially non-profits, who want to work with us because we are a living wage employer. It’s not just for talent attraction, but client attraction as well,” she says, adding that education is key before any business decides to become a certified living wage employer. “It’s about weighing the pros and the cons.”

 

 

Breaking it down

 

What is a living wage?

 

“There is no universal definition. It is essentially a poverty line with specific characteristics,” says Jason. “Generally, a living wage is the hourly wage that reflects what people would need to earn to cover the actual costs of living in their particular area. A popular definition: A living wage is a socially acceptable level of income that provides adequate coverage for necessities such as food, shelter, child services, and healthcare. The living wage standard allows for no more than 30% to be spent on rent or a mortgage and is sufficiently higher than the poverty level.”

 

Why are businesses hesitant about offering a living wage?

 

“Businesses exist solely to make profit. Which can be a good thing as this is good for society as a whole because it ensures our scarce resources (labour, land, natural resources etc.) are used efficiently which is translates into a higher standard of living,” says Jason. “Many business owners do not believe their goal is to alleviate poverty and would suggest that this is the role of the government. Moreover, most businesses that pay a non-living wage (such as the minimum wage) have narrow margins and probably would not be able to pay a living wage even if they wanted to.”

 

Can increasing the minimum wage to a living wage help alleviate poverty?

 

“Likely not,” says Jason. “It is also important to point out the following statistics from a Fraser Institute Study: 8.8% of all workers earn the minimum wage; 92.3% of minimum wage earners live in households that are above the LICO (Low Income Cutoff); most minimum wage workers are not primary breadwinners: and 53% of all minimum wage workers are between the ages of 15 and 24.”

 

What advice can you offer businesses who are considering about taking this step?

 

“It can be profitable to pay higher wages in an effort to boost productivity and reduce turnover,” says Jason. “Efficiency wages: refer to employers paying higher than the minimum wage to retain skilled workers, increase productivity, or ensure loyalty.”

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While the recent unveiling of a national child-care deal should come as welcome news to many business owners facing labour issues, child-care experts say there are still some important issues that will need to be addressed pertaining to the new plan.

 

“The intention is really good, but we just have to figure out what this will look like along the way,” says Jaime Jacomen, Leader of Operational Excellence at YMCA of Three Rivers, referring to the deal which aims to have $10-a-day childcare in place by September of 2025.

 

The plan, which affects licensed child-care centres and licensed home care providers only, was solidified at the end of March when the Ontario government became the last to sign on resulting in fees reduced up to 25% to a minimum of $12 a day starting April 1. 

 

Rebates are also to be issued to parents of children aged five and under starting in May retroactively to April 1 and further reductions are on tap leading to the 2025 ‘goal’. The federal government has also invested an additional $2.9 billion for a sixth year of the agreement.

 

“I see this $10-a-day plan as a good starting point in helping working parents, but is it enough?” asks Tina Kharian, owner of Gravity Hair Design in Cambridge. “It’s hard to say as we also need to ensure enough daycare spots are available and qualified providers for all families.”

 

The deal outlines the creation of 86,000 child-care spaces (including more than 15,000 spaces already in place since 2019), representing a mix of for-profit and not-for-profit.

While she welcomes the extra spaces, Jaime admits she wonders where they will be created.

 

“It’s a bigger process,” she says, noting increasing child-care access comes along with new school builds.

 

Also, Jaime says the wage plan set out in the deal – which will see minimum-wage floors for child-care workers of $18 an hour and $20 an hour for supervisors, plus an additional $1 an hour until the floor hits $25 an hour – won’t be enough.


“Many early childhood educators are making over that already, so that’s not any additional incentive,” she says. “The government seems to be wanting to address the affordability issue and access for families. But in order to have all of that access, you need to build that early childhood education workforce.”


However, Jaime remains optimistic and says the YMCA’s provincial body has been engaged with the Province about this issue for some time.


“We do think this is something that needs to happen,” she says.


Tina agrees and says a national child-care system is vital for our economy to fully recover.


“As business owners, we should be welcoming this because having affordable, quality daycare for all families will increase labour force participation, especially in our business (hair salon) since most stylists are women,” she says.


The Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s 2020 report The She-Covery Project: Confronting the Gendered Economic Impacts of COVID-19 in Ontario outlined a series of recommendations to offset both the immediate and longer-term challenges women face. Among these were calls for a short-term child-care strategy to weather the pandemic and longer-term reforms to improve accessibility and affordability.


“We risk turning back the clock on decades of progress if we do not take a hard look at the challenges facing women and plan for recovery with women at the table and a gender and diversity lens on strategies, programs and policies,” said Dr. Wendy Cukier, Diversity Institute Founder and Academic Director of the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub in the report.

 

Here's what parents can expect in the coming months:

  • As of April 1, 2022, families with children five years old and younger in participating licensed childcare centres, including licensed home care, will see fees reduced up to 25 per cent to a minimum of $12 per day.
  • Rebates, retroactive to April 1, will be issued automatically starting in May. The rebate is in place to account for child-care operators that may need extra time to readjust their fees. 
  • In December 2022, fees will be reduced further to about 50% on average.

The deal outlines a plan to further slash rates in the coming years. Here's what the longer-term outlook includes:

  • In September 2024 fees will be reduced even further.
  • A final reduction in September 2025 will bring fees down to an average of $10 per day.
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The ability for businesses to be flexible and creative is pivotal when it comes to finding ways to combat ongoing labour shortages, say local employment experts.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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On a warm summer day, the patio at Thirteen in downtown Cambridge is a popular spot.

 

The pedestrian-friendly space created by the temporary closure of Main Street between Water Street South and Ainslie Street North has enabled the restaurant and its neighbouring eateries to create an inviting atmosphere for residents and visitors as Ontario’s reopening continues in wake of the pandemic.

 

But despite this great potential, Thirteen co-owner Matt Rolleman has only been able to operate the restaurant five days a week due to a staffing shortage.

 

“The staff we have is great and they’ve worked so hard, but I would have to put everyone into overtime all the time if we wanted to remain open seven days a week,” he says. “Right now, we don’t use our second-floor restaurant at all. We definitely don’t have the staff for that.”

 

He’s not alone. Many industries – from construction to manufacturing to hospitality – are having difficulty finding workers.

 

According to Statistics Canada, as reported by the Financial Post in early June, an estimated 632,700 positions – approximately 4.1% of jobs in Canada - were vacant in March. This translates, according to the article, approximately 100 basis points higher than pre-pandemic levels.

 

Matt says by the fall his ultimate hope is to be able to run the restaurant at pre-COVID-19 levels.

 

“But it’s going to be a struggle,” he admits, adding while searching the job site Indeed Canada looking for staff, he’s noticed many people working in local restaurants seeking opportunities in other establishments.

 

“There’s been a lot of upheaval. Some people who’ve been out of the restaurant industry for the past year have decided they are not coming back and that’s just the way it is.”

 

Canadian Tire owner Kerry Leroux has also found himself facing a few hurdles when it comes to finding employees.

 

“We are in a constant state of hiring. We’re always looking for people,” he says. “You’re also in a constant state of training as well which makes it very difficult on the other staff, so we have to get them trained as quickly as possible.”

 

He says some retail businesses will put new employees right to work on the floor with virtually no training which is something he doesn’t do at his store which usually employs about 150 workers (about 40% of whom are full time).

 

“That’s really not fair to the employee or the customers when you do that,” says Kerry, adding this is the first time he’s experienced an employment situation like this since taking over the operation of the Pinebush Road store 10 years ago.

 

Like many, he finds it difficult to understand why there are so many job vacancies, considering

Canada’s unemployment rate in May was 8.2% which translated in the loss of 68,000 jobs.

 

But Brendon Bernard, a senior economist at Indeed Canada Corp., was quoted in the Financial Post explaining that the natural push and pull between the number of people seeking employment and available jobs has been thrown into turmoil by the pandemic.

 

Factors in this ‘upheaval’, according to the article, include a spike in demand for products and services in sectors that were already struggling to find qualified workers and potential health risks frontline workers face being exposed to COVID-19.

 

Couple these factors with enhanced employment benefits from the federal government, such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), and the pressure has been reduced for people when it comes taking what are considered as lower-paid jobs.

 

“Once the CERB was announced by the Feds that really slowed down the number of people applying for jobs,” says Kerry, noting that providing the benefit to students during January and February which are the slowest months in the retail business also didn’t help

“It made no sense at that time of the year for the government to hand over $500 a week to a student living at home,” he says, adding the money might have had more impact if it had been directed towards their education costs instead. “I think they (government) looked at it in the wrong way.”

 

For Mehrzad Salkhordeh, part owner of dB Noise Reductions Inc., a Cambridge-based engineering company that offers a variety of noise reduction solutions, he says the CERB has made it difficult for many small businesses.

 

“I think for the younger generation - not to stereotype or categorize – it won’t hit them until it hits them,” he says, adding the tax implications of collecting the benefit will eventually be felt. “When they do their taxes next year, they will see the impact and then they will start looking for opportunities. For them, I think next year is going to be wake-up call.”

 

Currently, he too has had trouble filling positions and says ongoing border closures has resulted in fewer qualified immigrants entering the workforce as well as international students from taking part time jobs in many sectors.

“I’m hoping with the vaccinations and with better progress we seem to be having with COVID-19 that things will go back to being a bit more normal,” says Mehrzad, adding there is a need now for the government to motivate and accommodate small businesses.

 

He says offering higher wages seems like an easy fix but doing so will quickly impact the bottom line for most small businesses.

 

“I think $20 an hour is a pretty good starting point for someone with no experience who is starting fresh. But I know you can’t live off $40,000 a year and feed a family and pay rent,” he says. “As a person I understand that. But as an employer, if I want to pay this person $25 an hour, I must raise my pricing and servicing and will not be able to maintain the business.”

 

Kerry says offering incentives – such as profit sharing and good benefits - and promoting how his store is ‘different’ from other retailers is imperative when it comes to finding workers.

 

“There’s a lot of jobs out there and people are coming in with very specific questions on what this job can do for me, and that’s fair,” he says. “I want them to ask those questions because I want them to see the differences between one or the other.”

 

Matt agrees finding the right person is vital but says even without CERB, which is scheduled to end on September 25, hiring workers will remain difficult taking into account new and larger employers in our Region, such as the suspected Amazon facility in the works near Blair.

 

“These opportunities are great and will employ a lot of people in terms of secure jobs. But I look at them as an opportunity for me to lose some staff,” he says, adding at his restaurant COVID-19 fears have lessened among staff due to ongoing and strict safety protocols. “There’s enough going on in Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge right now so if someone wants to leave a job and find another job, they can do it relatively quickly depending on what they are looking for.”

 

According to Statistics Canada in March:

  • 4.1% of jobs in Canada – roughly 632,700 – were vacant
  • Canada’s unemployment rate was 8.2%, with another 68,000 jobs lost
  • Hospitality sector posted a vacancy rate of 7.4% (roughly 68,400) unfilled jobs
  • Construction sector posted a vacancy rate of 5.8% (roughly 58,300) unfilled jobs
  • Transportation & warehousing posted a vacancy rate of 3.9% (roughly 30,600) unfilled jobs
  • Retail posted a vacancy rate of 4% (roughly 75,300) unfilled jobs
  • Healthcare & social assistance sector’s job vacancy rate was 4.8% (roughly 104,200 jobs)

 

Source: Financial Post

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