Canadian companies slow to confront threats of a draining labour pool

Leo Burnett, founder of the advertising agency famous for such icons as the Jolly Green Giant and the Marlboro Man, once said that his company’s most valuable asset walked out of the building every night and returned the following morning.

People – with knowledge, skills and experience – make the difference between a company’s success or failure. And this in turn drives the entire economy. But now, an unprecedented number of skilled workers may be leaving their jobs. The boomers are retiring — or in some cases, looking for alternative careers.

And companies are worried. So reports a recent Deloitte survey, polling 1,396 global human resources personnel from 60 countries, representing a cross-section of industry type and organization size.

Canadian companies were, if anything, more worried that their international counterparts…but doing less about it.

74 per cent of Canadian participants said that attracting new talent and retaining it is the most critical people-oriented issue facing their organizations. This compared to 66 per cent to 69 per cent of international corporations participating in the study.

And a wpping 86 per cent of Canadian businesses said they are facing talent shortages for salaried staff, compared to 74 per cent of global respondents. And the pending shortage extends to hourly workers, with 66 per cent of Canadian businesses anticipating non-white collar staff shortages.

But when it came to taking action, Canadian companies fell behind the international field. Less than half of the companies polled indicated they are taking steps to enhance existing roles to attract and retain talent. Global respondents fared slightly better, with 59 per cent currently addressing the talent shortage.

The disappearance of intellectual capital threatens virtually all industrialized nations. As an indication of how serious the problem is, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recently confessed that after an era of downsizing and early retirement of employees, it had actually lost the knowledge to return astronauts to the moon.

“If we want to go to the moon again, we’ll be starting from scratch because all that knowledge has disappeared,” said a NASA engineer, quoted in David Delong’s book Lost Knowledge: Confronting the Threat of an Aging Workforce.

According to Delong, baby boomers account for about 30 per cent of the population in both Canada and the United States. But Canada’s labour force is aging faster. By 2011, Canada’s median age is expected to be 41, compared to 36.5 in the US. By 2010, the 45-64 age group will represent 37 per cent of the country’s work force.

“As Canada’s workforce continues to shrink, the talent pool of mature workers is a huge untapped resource, waiting to fill the skills and talent gap across all industries,” says Gail Jackson, Manager,, an online employment service specializing in the 50 plus market. “Research suggests that boomers are looking at retirement as more of a career change than an extended vacation.”