When it comes to productivity, Canadian businesses are known for not doing themselves any favours, and there are many reasons why.
Members of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce got the scoop from three leaders in business development about why less than stellar productivity levels seem to pervade company culture along with some tips to ensure they stay a cut above.
The message was welcomed by at least one local business: Ziptrek.
Liza Walli, director of human resources of Ziptrek Ecotours, said she was pleased the chamber arranges "these kinds of bite-sized learning opportunities for Whistler businesses to be exposed to topics that weigh in outside of our resort."
She said companies at the resort can feel insulated from the national realities.
"To be briefed on national productivity levels, recruiting market analysis and the impact of technological innovation and growth is welcome, particularly when the speakers are engaging, informed experts that have a connection to and understanding of the unique nature of resort living," Walli said.
"As a resort we clearly understand the need to establish service excellence and connections to our visitors to be the business or destination of choice, but I think productivity represents a significant opportunity for improvement."
Since Whistler has extreme seasonal peaks and valleys in business levels and a reliance on a transient workforce, it has an even tougher job in many ways than urban centres around productivity, she added.
"I was pretty shocked to see that Canada clearly lagged around productivity metrics when compared to other nations... Add to that Go2's research on an aging workforce, and significantly reduced number of young workers entering the job market and it's easy to feel the pending push on Whistler's recruiting reality."
The September chamber luncheon had 58 attendees, all there to find out how poor output hits their business activity and, ultimately, their bottom line.
Michelle Osry, an associate partner at Deloitte & Touche LLP, talked productivity; Peter Larose, directory of Policy and Research at go2, discussed workforce development; and Mike McCarthy, vice president of Small and Medium Business BC at Telus, gave the technology angle.
Chamber president Fiona Famulak told the luncheon that in a competitive international market like Whistler's "setting ourselves apart from the competition is absolutely essential."
Since the resort's economy is grounded in tourism it, too, is fragile and susceptible to external challenges that cannot be controlled from the resort.
"We need to stay active in order to stay competitive," she added.
Osry picked up the topic, explaining information that Deloitte & Touche has gathered on how Canadian productivity, already low when compared to other OECD nations, has actually declined in the past decade. For productivity to consistently increase a company needs to be in a state of growth, investment and research and development. To assess productivity meant looking at the efforts of skilled workers and working in innovative ways.
"We see (low productivity) as a significant threat to the wellbeing of the average Canadian," she said, because "it is a major driver behind the standard of living."
Their statistics showed that the "problem is getting bigger, it's not a static problem. So complacency is not really an option for us."
Productivity was defined as output per hour. Australian workers, for example, generate $2 more than the average Canadian per hour; Americans generate $13 more, while Norwegians generate $39 more, Osry said. Deloitte & Touche assessed various issues they believed to be the key drivers of productivity and what Canadian businesses need to get a grip on, including:
Risk: When they asked 950 senior business leaders from Canada and the U.S. to self-report their perception of risk taking, Deloitte & Touche found there was no difference between the two nations. The difference came, Osry said, when they looked deeper at what money was being invested in. Canadian risk takers were equal to their American counterparts, she said, but the risk averse were massively more so in this country than in the U.S.
Lack of investment: There is a major lack of investment by the private sector in research and development. Throughout the world, incremental innovation is seen to be a primary driver of productivity, including the way businesses are marketed or products distributed. Lack of risk capital and venture capital relative to the U.S. "is fairly extreme." Canadian companies are capitalized at 49 per cent of U.S. levels, dropping to 34 per cent when it comes to communications and information technology.
"All this is an important conversation to have," Osry said, adding that Whistler is a "big home for small business."
Solutions include addressing risk aversion on a wide scale, starting with schoolchildren, attracting skilled immigrants, streamlining the immigration process, and allowing them to use their qualifications.
"Innovation is the big one. This is the driver that I think Whistler can own, whether it's through data analytics, whether it's through a new way of thinking," Osry said. "And we need to ease restrictions on alternative sources of funding."
Peter Larose of go2 asked how many company managers and owners in the audience had trouble reaching full staffing levels in Whistler. Four out of 58 put up their hands. He told them that this number would increase in the next decade, with around 1.1 million new jobs being created in British Columbia, but with only 650,000 new workforce entrants.
"Even if you are not experiencing labour shortages, you will," Larose said. "This is irrespective of what you see in the next 10 years in the economy (whether soft or growing)."
There will be fewer young workers, which are essential to the success to Whistler businesses, and they will be in huge demand by employers. And an aging workforce will mean that 60 per cent of coming vacancies will be due to retirements. There will also be pressure from net outward migration, especially to Alberta.
Employers, Larose said, will need to show workers why they should work for them; they should actively seek employees from less stereotypical sources — including older workers, First Nations, and the disabled. As well, employers need to manage turnover in a way to keep more staff, develop managers to guide the workforce well, and invest in training.
"Probably the most important thing is to keep the staff that you have, it's absolutely critical," he added.
Michael McCarthy of Telus spoke of how the new normal of business is to use new media, communications, and other technologies to drive productivity. Adoption and adaptation of technologies like cashless payment methods, YouTube for training, and WiFi and smartphones needed inclusion in business considerations as customers expected this now.
"But the best investment in technology you could make in Whistler is to ensure that your people are creative and comfortable with it," McCarthy said.
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