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Canadian companies challenged to attract critical-skill employees, Towers Watson finds

By Workplace Staff

A majority of companies in Canada and around the world are having difficulty attracting the critical-skill and talented employees needed to help them rebound and prosper in the wake of the economic crisis. However, the severity of their difficulty in attracting these workers varies greatly from country to country as economic recovery is proving to be uneven in different regions, according to a new survey conducted by global professional services company Towers Watson and WorldatWork, an international association of human resource professionals.

The Towers Watson Global Talent Management and Rewards Survey, a study of 1,176 companies globally, including 155 from Canada, also found that a majority of respondents said the cost-cutting measures that they took during the recession and financial crisis had an adverse impact on employees’ workloads, their ability to manage work-related stress and overall employee engagement. As a result, companies are beginning to re-evaluate their reward and talent management programs, and how they attract, retain and motivate employees.

According to the survey, nearly two-thirds (65%) of companies globally and 61% of Canadian companies reported problems attracting critical-skill employees. Six in 10 (61%) companies globally, and 57% of Canadian companies, reported similar difficulty attracting top-performing, talented employees. Interestingly, companies in most regions reported having less difficulty retaining employees than they do attracting them. Globally, only 21% of companies are having difficulty keeping employees generally, while just 12% of Canadian firms reported problems holding onto employees.

“Although the Canadian economy has been stronger than that of some countries in the survey, the business climate has still impacted the supply and demand of talent, and companies’ ability to attract and hire talented employees,” says Ofelia Isabel, the Canadian leader for rewards, talent and communication, consulting at Towers Watson. “Top talent is always in short supply, but employees are now telling us that with sufficient career development opportunities, they would prefer to stay with their current employers. This desire to remain with their current employer is going to require companies to be more creative in their efforts in how they attract and build talent and leadership in the future.”

Impact of cost cutting on employees

The economic crisis forced many companies globally to take cost management or cost-cutting activities, such as hiring and salary freezes, layoffs and bonus reductions. These cost-cutting steps took their toll on workers. Two-thirds of Canadian employers (66%) believe their cost-cutting actions increased employees’ workloads, while 57% said they adversely impacted employees’ ability to manage their work-related stress. Canadian employers also responded that these measures had a negative impact on both employee engagement (56%) and workers’ ability to balance their work and personal lives (50%).

“This study is a good reminder that employers need to look at their employee value proposition in order to focus on key factors such as work-life balance and career development that are attractive to both current and prospective employees,” says Maureen Neglia, a senior talent management consultant at Towers Watson in Toronto. “This is even more of a priority when trying to attract top talent for leadership roles.”

An increased focus on talent management

The survey noted that organizations are likely to increase their talent management emphasis in leadership, succession planning and career pathing over the next three years. When asked what their top talent management priorities were, 63% of Canadian companies responded increasing the investment in building an internal pipeline of talent, followed by 62% who said ensuring the readiness of talent in critical roles was a top priority. One-half (50%) ranked creating more movement, rotation and development opportunities for talent, and developing the next generation of leaders with a new set of competencies and capabilities as a top priority.  

“Leadership development continues to get a lot of attention in Canada” says Isabel. “As a new regulatory and economic era emerges from the wake of the financial crisis, strategic vision, change leadership, integrity and ethics are the attributes identified by survey participants as the keys to success for the next generation of leaders and organizations.”

The Towers Watson Global Talent Management and Rewards Survey was conducted in May and June of 2010, and includes responses from 1,176 companies from 23 countries, including 155 companies from Canada. The participants represent a wide range of industries and come from a broad cross section geographically.

Towers Watson is a leading global professional services company that helps organizations improve performance through effective people, risk and financial management. Learn more at

WorldatWork is a global human resources association focused on compensation, benefits, work-life and integrated total rewards to attract, motivate and retain a talented workforce

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