The Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC) is in the midst of an expansion that will take its Labrador City operation’s annual production up to 26 million tonnes — and has launched a study to determine the feasibility of producing 50 million tonnes a year.
The raw material is there. But are the workers?
On the second day of the Newfoundland and Labrador Employers’ Council conference at the Sheraton Hotel, tackling the province’s looming labour shortage — the government forecasts there will be 77,000 job vacancies in the province by 2020 — Glenn Andrews, senior human resources business partner at IOC, said the company already has 200 vacancies it’s having difficulty filling.
One way of dealing with the problem, he said, is to turn to technology in order to do more with less — the theme of a panel discussion involving three winners of the council’s Employer of Distinction awards.
“Our strategy was to go to larger equipment — both shovels, trucks — and reduce the number of operators required to move a certain amount of dirt. We’ve gone from 240-tonne trucks to 320. In years gone by, they were 100-tonne, 150-tonne, so we’ve bought new, bigger equipment, which should require less operators,” he said. “The other challenge that we’re dealing with is growth. So the need has continued to increase while the number of operators (available) has continued to decrease.”
Sharon Horan, president of Fit For Work, an occupational health company that prepares injured employees to return to the workplace, said her company used to have four more offices — in Gander, Stephenville, Goose Bay and Labrador City — than the four it has now, but couldn’t find enough qualified staff to keep them open.
“We had to reorganize that because attaining those skills that we required and then retaining them just got to be too much of a challenge, and we were constantly beating ourselves out trying to find the right skill set,” she said. “So doing more with less is not something we look forward to, but every year seems to come with a new challenge for us and we’re forced to respond to our staffing shortages while trying first and foremost to maintain some type of excellent customer service.”
Horan’s said her company’s biggest challenge in retaining staff is competition from the government. She said her employees are often approached by Eastern Health for open positions, and she’s had to raise salaries as much as 25 per cent in one year just to keep up with government contracts.
“So when you hear something like the government is negotiating a new deal for nursing, for example, that has a huge impact on a company like mine, because to maintain my nurses, I have to be better than government, and that’s pretty tough.”
Still, Horan said that sort of competition for workers is, overall, positive for her, because it’s a constant reminder of the need to focus on what her employees want as well as what her customers want.
For Mike Wadden, president and CEO of recycling company Ever Green Environmental, the challenge to do more with less came about in 2007, when the company shifted from a clinical mental health program to an affirmative business that receives no core funding for a staff in which 80 per cent of employees have some form of mental illness like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
Making that transition involved bringing up productivity and salary standards to compete in the industry.
“We had to, in order to survive, develop a fourfold productivity improvement in one year,” he said. “So some of the challenges that groups are experiencing now, we experienced back in 2007.”
Another challenge in attracting and keeping staff for a company like Ever Green, said Wadden, is that the majority of jobs are unskilled, minimum wage jobs.
But the company also targets a traditionally underused workforce — the mentally ill.
“We’ve developed employment measures to enhance the employment of that group. For the group that we employ, the unemployment rate is between 80 and 95 per cent, and job maintenance is usually determined in a matter of months. We’ve been able to keep most of our employees employed for well over three years, so that’s a fairly significant accomplishment that we’ve been able to achieve.”
Crucial to Ever Green’s success were what Wadden said are “sound and strong” business practices applicable to all companies and which didn’t require a lot of extra resources.
“One of the first things we had to do was really develop an in-depth understanding of our business and productivity processes, so companies have to make a commitment to fully understand their businesses and their operations and make an investment in that kind of understanding,” he said.
Other steps included formalizing the operational structure, simplifying operations and establishing production benchmarks.