The Labour Shortage: the #1 Issue for Canada’s Retail Trade

For some years now, the retail trade has been severely understaffed. As of June 30, 2019, there were 16,480 vacant position in Quebec and 64,395 across Canada. Of the 17 sectors grouped by the Détail Québec organization, all are experiencing a scarcity or, worse, a shortage of labour. Is this situation alarming? Are there solutions? To tell us about it, we interviewed Manuel Champagne, Managing Director of Détail Québec, Retail Sector Workforce Committee.

 

In which sectors are there acute needs?

The 17 sectors that make up the retail trade are all, without exception, experiencing staffing problems. In some cases there is talk of a shortage, while in others there is a scarcity of labour. The most concerning sector is pharmacy. There is a severe shortage of pharmacists and technical assistants in pharmacies. Across the sector, the position of sales advisor (accounting for 38% of vacancies alone), store managers and supervisors, as well as shelf stockers, are the most sought-after. Of course, the clothing sector also faces challenges. Since staff has to resemble the target clientele, many young people are recruited. However, these are becoming more and more scarce.

What are the reasons for this shortage?

There are three main ones:

  • The ageing of the population: the retail sector targets young people from 16 to 24 years old for sales positions. However, today there are fewer young people than there were four years ago. And the situation is likely to get worse, because the number of retirees is growing and the active labour force is declining.
  • Strong competition between the various retail sectors, but also between industries, is leading to wage inflation. To attract the best candidates, companies have to offer a tempting salary. However, the retail industry is struggling to compete on the wage front. SMEs cannot afford to offer high salaries. In addition, the digital shift favours web giants such as Amazon or Walmart which have sophisticated online services. This weakens SMEs even more, year after year.
  • Finally, there is also a sociological reason: the rise of entrepreneurship. More and more people are quitting their salaried jobs to become self-employed. This is a very strong trend among millennials. So companies have to adapt. For example, Decathlon is now building a structure that favours entrepreneurship so young people can have a career there.

Is hiring semi-retirees part of the solution?

Yes, semi-retirees are what we call experienced workers. Some want to start a second or third career, which can be a solution to recruitment. The renovation and hardware sector has understood this, and has been using this type of workforce for the past fifteen years. There is also an increasing effort in all sectors to seek out other experienced workers such as immigrants, the disabled, offenders and Aboriginals. This labour does not need to be expert: companies generally train them according to their needs.

With the massive retirements in the coming years, how do you see the future?

The situation is going to get worse. But there are solutions. First of all, companies need to develop their employer brand by highlighting the benefits they can offer employees. If recruitment is done well, there will be a lower turnover. Détail Québec also provides companies with an online Guide de ressources humaines [Human Resources Guide] to help them implement an effective recruitment and integration strategy. Then, some companies are going digital. They have fewer branches, but a better transactional website. As a result, they make more sales with fewer employees. Finally, several companies are incorporating digital technology within their stores. Think of McDonald’s Restaurants, which for two years have offered ordering terminals. These will be more and more popular in the future, as will robots that are already present in the United States and roam the aisles to help customers. These new technologies compensate for the shortage of labour, but also give rise to new trades related to the maintenance and proper operation of the machines.

What would you tell a young person seeking a job in the retail sector?

Despite everything you can hear, the retail trade is growing, not only in Quebec but across Canada. It offers great careers and a very rapid professional ascent to all those who are passionate about customer service. Even without training, you can climb the ladder much faster than in other fields and in four years move from a sales position to a position as a supervisor or manager. With the introduction of new technologies, many jobs related to logistics are appearing. In short, the challenges are very stimulating, even in small companies that can stand out with good customer experience.

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