Heading off labour shortages

From the December 2024 print edition

The December issue of Supply Professional – the last one of the year – is always a good place to review what’s happened over the past 12 months, as well as what’s likely in store for the field going into the New Year.

Michael Power is editor of Supply Professional magazine.

And while some of the turmoil of the past few years has abated, it’s been another interesting year for supply chains. Many of the more prominent trends from previous years, like the rise of technology and digitization, will likely continue over the next 12 months.

One of those trends, and similarly one that we’ll continue to grapple with for some time, is the ongoing labour shortage. On that front, it’s not all bad news. According to a Statistics Canada analysis from earlier this year, the proportion of businesses expecting a shortage of labour to be a problem fell over the last year or so – from 37 per cent to 30.4 per cent in the first quarter of 2023. This year, job vacancies were at their lowest since 2021.

Still, over half (50.5 per cent) of businesses with 20 to 99 employees anticipated a labour shortage to be an obstacle, while more than two-fifths of businesses with 5 to 19 employees (43.6 per cent) and 100 or more employees (42.0 per cent) expected the same.

Labour shortages remain a challenge across multiple industries and fields, like manufacturing, construction, and hospitality, to name a few. There are various reasons for this, among them the knock-on effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, an aging workforce, with many of those older workers taking an early retirement around the time of the pandemic.

There’s a multifaceted impact to this shortage, including slower delivery times and rising costs. Fortunately, there are also numerous actions that organizations can take to address that shortage.

One challenge facing employees, that may be part of the solution to the above, is advancing technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics. Some fear a loss of human employment, as technology is able to do more and more of the functions humans traditionally perform.

Ironically, quite the opposite might happen. In many instances, technology like robotics is helping those aging workers stay in their positions longer. Cobots, or robots that work alongside human colleagues, are helping aging workers with tasks they may increasingly find too taxing to do themselves. Organizations must ensure their workforces are trained to use the kinds of technology that will be prevalent going forward.

There are innovative ways to engage younger workers as well. Of course, educating younger people about how great it is to work in supply chain helps. High schools, post-secondary institutions, and industry organizations are already doing this.
As another example, Amplify Logistics seeks younger drivers and workers, offering perks like weekend time off that appeal especially to their demographic. In this issue’s profile, Amplify’s Matthew Zarzycki talks about the benefits of this strategy. You can read about their efforts starting on page 10.

Labour shortages will likely remain a challenge for some time. Having strategies to deal with those shortages is vital for organizations as they head into the New Year.