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A War For Talent Not Seen Since The Great War

A War For Talent Not Seen Since The Great War

World War I sparked a huge downturn in economies. Multiple countries had unspeakable losses, such as France, with casualties from some of the fiercest battles ever seen resulting in over 1.6 million citizens. The effects of these losses on individuals, economies, and the workforce would ripple through the global economy for decades.

Today we are facing a similar global crisis with the COVID-19 pandemic. Much like the Great War, COVID has brought chaos to many industries, with the trades hit especially hard. We must understand that just like our great-grandparents, we are currently in a war – this time for talent. 

As businesses and individuals headed into lockdowns in 2020, some of which lasted well into 2021 in places like Ontario, many employers put hiring on hold. Enrollments in trades apprenticeships and final exam certifications fell off the map, dropping by 70% and continuing to plummet. This was a devastating blow for construction and manufacturing businesses, the bedrock of our economy. 

Now, some may feel a large drop in entry-level apprenticeship and a pause in graduations is not a big deal, and the industries will bounce back, but think about it. Without new talent entering the workforce, the entire system is destabilized. Promotions can’t happen because there is no one to step into the empty roles, retirements and people leaving the workforce are still occurring at pre-COVID rates, or even higher in some industries. This leaves us with some huge gaps.

As it is in sports, there is always excitement for raw, young talent to bring new energy to the field as older players retire or move into coaching roles. Unfortunately, the practices and dry land training an athlete might receive weren’t happening for new trades apprentices as job placements and layoffs due to COVID were common. This was discouraging for many, and they left to pursue other industries where work was available.  

Industries like warehousing, where wages have risen to $25 an hour, and others such as the technology sector rolled along and picked up the talent while some companies paused. The effect of a huge drop in intake while other industries ramp up is an echo, an amplified war on talent for many industries like manufacturing and construction.

What can be done about this? 

Hire and target the best talent from under-employed/represented groups like minorities, women and Indigenous populations. Start going into grade schools to present the trades as an interesting and rewarding career path. Give current employees room to grow and thrive, which prevents turnover.  

Armies, like The Triple Entente who emerged victorious in WW I, are always recruiting. Industry needs to adopt this mindset now as the 18 plus month war on COVID will affect the demand for talent for years to come.

Employees are expensive, but having too few on your crew will probably end up costing you more. We get calls from employers every day regarding how much cashflow they’re losing while a seat goes vacant. It could be anywhere from $250,000 a month, to tens of thousands every hour, in the case of industries that suffer production interruptions due to a lack of maintenance staff, such as mining or manufacturing. It is crucial to match the real impact of recruitment with the real cost of a business, in order to reduce the costly daily impact on companies.

The cost of hiring goes far beyond simply paying an employee’s salary, and includes recruitment, training, benefits, and more. According to the Human Capital Benchmarking Report, companies on average will spend 42 days attempting to fill a role, and spend more than $1,500 on employee training once they’ve made a hire. Not only that, but it can take six months or more for a company to balance its investment in hiring.

If that doesn’t inspire you to speed up the hiring process, consider how your current employees feel, having to stretch themselves to fill the gaps. Even if the employee is being compensated for their extra time and effort, it’s not a sustainable solution. Keep in mind too, vacancies in strategic, management, and team leadership positions have a multiplier effect on productivity and recruitment. It is amazing how often we hear that someone is quitting due to the manager they liked leaving or due to overwork. If that happens to you, you could be doubling or tripling the cost of your job vacancies in one fell swoop. 

Temp employees from agencies are an option, but keep in mind, temp workers tend to have a higher error rate than the average employee, and they are unlikely to generate as many new ideas. That’s another reason why finding the right, long-term fit is so important.

Although average personnel costs vary depending on the industry and type of activity, it is worth looking into outside recruitment services if your company needs to fill positions with qualified professionals. Although the cost of recruitment may seem higher than the cost of unfilled positions, that does not mean they are worth the risk, not to mention the snowball effect that high unfilled positions can have when other employees are overworked. If positions are filled too quickly with the wrong hire, high turnover costs can be more than saving personnel costs.

Human resources managers say the average cost they incur for longer vacancies is more than $800,000 a year. Having one role vacant in mining could cost a company $25 million a year, and can exceed $20.1 billion a year for sectors like high-tech. So what are vacancies costing your company?


Kael Campbell is President and Lead Recruiter of Red Seal Recruiting Solutions, a company providing recruitment services in mining, equipment and plant maintenance, utilities, manufacturing, construction, and transportation. When he is not recruiting, Kael spends as much time as possible with family in the great outdoors and on the water. He volunteers his time as a Board Member of the Entrepreneurs Organization of Vancouver Island. We have a wide variety of services to help you find the best employees. See how we can help on our Recruiting Solutions page.