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Future of Work: Demands from job seekers, employers exasperating tight labour market

Future of Work: Employers are juggling to keep staffing levels up as many return to work amid the ongoing pandemic. A number of labour specialists are suggesting there's a gap between what workers and operators are looking for. Global News

The owner of a Hamilton physiotherapy clinic is feeling a pain many business operators are experiencing amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – finding qualified professional staff.

Amber Kosubovich of Waterdown Physiotherapy says since reopening following government-mandated lockdowns in 2020, she’s struggled replacing staff members who’ve made life decisions to move on amid two years of uncertainty.

Read more: Future of Work: Many jobs could stick with ‘hybrid’ model in the future, experts say

“Some staff decided that it would be a good time to retire, so we’ve had some long time employees leave due to retirement,” Kosubovich told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton.

“We’ve had others reevaluate their career and decide to return to school.”

She says business has never been better with many enlisting her services due to aches and pains related to working from home in imperfect ergonomic setups.

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“Many people have expressed the difficulty in getting in-person appointments with their family doctor,” said Kosubovich. “So they’re booking directly with our physiotherapists to assess and diagnose their issues.”

However, challenges getting qualified people to supplement her declining staff continues to be an issue.

Even seeking newly trained replacements has been an effort considering the profession has been in demand over the past decade with few candidates coming out of the education sector, according to Conference Board of Canada data.

The cancellation of key qualifying exams by the Medical Council of Canada over the past two years, due to public health recommendations, has further limited the pool of pros available.

“The licensing exam had some challenging situations where it had to be canceled several times because of the pandemic,” Kosubovich remarked.

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“A lot of new graduates entering the field have not been able to become licensed, and that has also led to a shortage in qualified physiotherapists.”

Retaining staff for critical municipal services has also been a common theme in 2022, particularly in the health-care sector.

Read more: Employers face juggling act with return-to-work plans: ‘People don’t like change’

During the City of Hamilton’s Board of Health meeting on Tuesday, associate medical officer of health Dr. Bart Harvey told councillors a recent ramp-down of surgeries at Hamilton Health Sciences was not solely due to a patient admissions issue but also due to a lack of qualified caregivers.

“A number of people, many of them being nurses, have just taken COVID as the opportunity to step out of the profession,” Harvey said.

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“Many were qualified for retirement and some of them, I actually think, got burned out of the profession and they are looking at doing something else.”

The most recent Statistics Canada (StatCan) job numbers for March exposed a tight labour market across the country with a record low unemployment rate for Ontario of 5.3 per cent — the first time that number returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Hamilton’s unemployment rate was 5.3 per cent as of March – significantly lower than the 6.6 per cent seen in June 2020 during the height of the pandemic.

Of Canadians not looking for work in March, more than one-quarter cited an illness or disability as a deterrent while one-fifth were waiting for a recall or reply from an employer, or didn’t think there was anything available.

The StatCan numbers suggest Canada is in a time of low unemployment with a high number of vacancies giving job hunters more choice and ramping up competition between prospective employers.

Read more: Workplace culture needs to readapt as employees return to the office

Hamilton Chamber of Commerce (HCC) policy and government relations advisor Paul Szachlewicz says demands for increased compensation from prospective employees mixed with higher costs to run a business due to supply-chain issues have fueled the current labour shortage.

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Mismatches related to salary and wages, working conditions around jobs that require physical labour or dangerous work, and where the work is are additional factors aggravating employers.

“Job seekers of today are demanding more of their job and of their employer than ever,” said Szachlewicz. “The pandemic has really exacerbated this and partially due to the higher cost of living, as well as just a greater awareness around the importance of mental and physical health in the workplace.”

He also says a recent chamber review revealed a number of small and medium enterprises (SME) in the city didn’t have formalized equity diversity and inclusion practices, preventing them from tapping into a wider set of candidates.

Read more: Employers face juggling act with return-to-work plans: ‘People don’t like change’

Offering living wages and implementing an equitable and diverse hiring practice are two solutions Szachlewicz can offer as suggestions to employers based on the mayor’s recent task force on economic recovery.

He says the HCC is partnering with the city’s post-secondary institutions to hopefully close gaps between students and employers advancing opportunities for SMEs to choose from a larger talent pool.

Meanwhile Kosubovich is grateful for the patience and understanding she’s received from her customers despite having to resort to a waiting list at times.

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“We do have to tell them … ‘sorry, we can’t see you three times a week. We can only see you twice a week,'” she said.

“So that kind of thing has impacted them, but overall, they’ve been very understanding.”

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