Developing Canada’s Future Workforce: A Survey of Large Private-Sector Employers

This Business Council of Canada report, based on a survey of 90 leading Canadian employers, identifies the qualities that large Canadian firms are looking for when they recruit employees. The survey reveals recent hiring trends and demographic changes in the job market for young Canadians. Although these firms represent a range of sectors and regions of the country, the survey results identify several common themes.

One theme that emerges is that while large Canadian companies are not facing a comprehensive skills shortage, they are seeking specialists in sectors such as finance, transportation and manufacturing.

The results also indicate that large companies are increasingly looking to recruit or develop employees with strong “soft” skills, particularly in the areas of collaboration, teamwork, communication, problem-solving skills, as well as people and relationship-building skills. While the importance of soft skills relative to hard skills depends on the position an employer is seeking to fill, these skills are especially important when identifying and developing future leaders. According to the survey respondents, leadership development is a serious challenge often resulting in shortages at a leadership or management level.

The report further indicates that employers’ expectations for graduates are changing rapidly. As a result, collaboration with post-secondary institutions is becoming quite common. Nevertheless, it was found that business-higher education partnerships need to be more firmly established with a stronger strategic focus on industry needs.

Most respondents believe their companies are well prepared to handle anticipated demographic shifts, in particular the imminent retirement of many baby boomers, with many large companies investing heavily in succession planning and workforce learning and development. In many cases, the latter include mobile training delivery and social media training tools as well as formal mentoring/coaching, job shadowing, and other informal methods such as reading articles, watching videos and speaking to colleagues.

This report provides practitioners, policymakers and employers with information about the Canadian labour market as well as the skills and attributes that large Canadian firms are looking for when they recruit employees. In particular, employment counsellors advising and assisting youth deciding upon a career will find the data quite useful.