Have you ever wondered what it’s like to hire people to staff a fast-food restaurant? I recently spoke to someone who does just that for a number of restaurants in the Vancouver area. She told me she feels lucky if she gets one candidate to show up for every five job interviews booked. The no-shows don’t even bother to let her know they aren’t coming.
One applicant looked really good on paper and kept applying for the jobs she was advertising, but she could not track him down. When she got a call from the Employment Insurance (EI) office asking if that applicant had applied for her job, she understood why. A condition of getting your EI benefits is looking for work. It seems this applicant was more interested in collecting his EI cheque than a paycheque.
In response to challenges like these, small business owners report trying a number of strategies, including increasing wages, expanding benefits, and providing more flexible hours.
But there are limits to how far these strategies can go because customers demand reasonable prices and convenient hours. Doubling wages might attract more applicants, but a business that tries to charge $50 for a pizza? A business with no customers won’t be in business for long. Offering more flexibility is also challenging because while employees might prefer not to work shifts when they are most needed.
So for many employers there is a gap between the jobs they can reasonably offer and the jobs that enough Canadians want to do. In fact, 81 percent of small- and mid-sized companies that were looking to hire in the past three years said it was “somewhat” or “very” difficult. Demographics suggest that in the coming years this problem will get worse.
In desperation some small businesses have turned to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and hired employees from outside of Canada. This is an expensive option, not for the faint of heart, as it involves a lot of paperwork and expense.
Recent media stories allege that a few restaurants have abused the program. Of course, any abuse should be treated seriously, just as abuse of the EI system should be treated seriously. Individual cases should be investigated and dealt with.
But to conclude that a handful of alleged cases of misuse constitutes widespread employer abuse is an insult to the vast majority of small businesses that are doing a good job of treating employees fairly and serving their customers well.
The business owners I talk to believe their entry-level jobs are a great first rung on the ladder of opportunity for many of their staff. They are excited to see their entry-level employees show initiative, move up quickly to become managers, or use their experience to move on to other opportunities.
The Vancouver hiring manager I recently spoke with was passionate about the dignity and importance of jobs that serve the public. She wants to hire Canadians first. But the reality is they don’t always want the jobs.