Two Stratford-area economic development officers are searching beyond Perth County’s borders for help with one of the region’s most pressing challenges – the attraction and retention of workers.
Perth County, the upper-tier municipality, and investStratford, the city’s economic development corporation, launched a provincewide survey this week asking Ontario’s employers to share their best practices. If it’s successful, local economic development officials will use the survey to create an online toolkit aimed at helping businesses implement programs that can help them attract and keep much-needed workers.
“I’m really excited about this project and the potential it has to highlight creative solutions (to) our current labor shortage,” said Meredith Forget, Perth County’s manager of economic development and tourism. “We know of so many businesses across the province that are doing innovative things to retain their employees, whether it be wellness programs or transportation bonuses or staff housing programs.”
Labor shortages have become common in Ontario and across the country, but Perth County has been especially vulnerable. According to Statistics Canada, the economic region that includes Perth, Huron, Bruce, and Gray counties just posted in October its lowest jobless rate of the year at 2.3 per cent, which is also the lowest its been since at least 2006.
“On the one hand, it’s a really great statistic that confirms for us those who are able to work are (working),” said Joani Gerber, investStratford’s chief executive. “On the other hand, it is an incredibly difficult economic development statistic because it means there are a number of available positions.
“There’s no doubt that our employers are in some cases in a critical crisis moment,” Gerber added. “We’re seeing our stores close early, we’re seeing our restaurants close early. It’s very rare to see any of our food and beverage providers open past nine or 10 o’clock (pm) and that is indicative of the issue.”
Officials are aiming to launch the toolkit in the first quarter of 2023, Forget said. It will include best practices and tools in recruitment, employee retention, flexible job design, employee housing initiatives, and diversity, equity and inclusion programs.
Perth County and investStratford are incentivizing employers who contribute to the toolkit via the survey by highlighting their best practices and offering them early access when the resource is ready.
Major infrastructure improvements, including transportation and housing, will be needed if Perth County wants to bolster its shallow labor pool, Gerber said, but creative solutions from forward-thinking employers could also make a big difference.
“I think best practice-sharing is one of the most important ways we can as a province get through what is a critical workforce shortage,” Gerber said. “All sectors are struggling, all companies are struggling, and it’s our experience certainly that they do come together often and they do share their best practices, so it made sense to cast a wider net and look outside of the (Perth County) border and find out what companies are doing, even in some of the larger urban centres.”