Recently, I see the resurgence of a well-used phrase in the HR landscape:

War for talent.

It refers to a set of conditions in the labour market that cause demand for workers to increase when supply is low. The phrase has actually been around since the late 90s, but recently, I see it being used frequently.

As we can all probably appreciate, the pandemic has led people to take stock of their lives and make changes. Job-hopping is on the rise and employers are feeling the pressure to attract and keep talent.

According to a report from March 2021, 52 per cent of people in North America will be looking for a new job this year. Meanwhile, on the demand side, employers are struggling to fill vacancies. According to the latest BDC report on the labour shortage, 55 per cent of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have difficulties recruiting workers they need and 26 per cent face challenges in retaining workers.

Signing bonuses, more flexible hours, and upgraded job titles are just some of the things employers are doing to get their number one candidates to sign on the dotted line. But is this enough?

Scarce? Or just overlooked?

The war for talent is caused by a perceived low supply. Shortages happen when the population is not growing fast enough. Canada’s aging population and low replacement rate are well-known by this point. Immigration will play a critical role in growing our workforce, yet the immigrants who are already here remain un- and under-employed. As of September this year, the unemployment rate for recent immigrants was almost four percentage points higher than for people born in Canada. Immigrant wages are, on average, 10 per cent below those of the Canadian-born population—a problem that, according to this report by RBC Economics, costs the Canadian economy as much as $50 billion a year in terms of unrealized GDP (2.5 per cent in annual GDP). Immigrants bring valuable skills, perspectives and international knowledge to the labour market, but employers have yet to fully tap into their potential.

As the BDC report notes, “the future depends on better integration of diverse workers. There are large groups of underutilized people who could join the workforce or be more fully employed. Youth and immigrants could be better integrated and offered more opportunities … SMEs that understand the value of diversity will widen their potential talent pool.”

Thinking beyond signing bonuses

What needs to happen? Incentives are part of attracting the best candidates, but if hiring processes are not inclusive; these candidates will never get discovered in the first place. Steps need to happen at every touchpoint along the process, from writing the posting, to advertising, to assessing resumes and interviewing to ensure the hiring committee takes an equitable approach. Initiatives such as those that address hiring bias ensure that international credentials are not discounted, and ensure the posting is disseminated beyond the “usual” networks, are critical.

The Ontario provincial government recently proposed legislative changes that will require regulatory bodies to remove the Canadian experience requirement from their licensing processes. Employers also have an opportunity to re-evaluate their hiring processes to ensure this systemic barrier doesn’t stop them from getting the talent they need – because when the individual immigrant professional loses out, so does the employer. It may not be that talent is scarce, but that we have to be more intentional about finding it.