Ask the Professional

Featuring Dominic Chow

Q: What should private companies be doing in a changing economic environment marked by a low Canadian dollar, volatile oil prices, a slowdown in China, and a surging US economy?

A: Good management knows that they can’t control the economic environment they are in; they can only control their response to those conditions. Canadian companies are viewing the current economic conditions as an opportunity to penetrate export markets, particularly the US. However, regions across the country are responding differently to the environment, including how they are hiring talent.

In Central Canada, the opportunity for mid-sized companies to compete for talent is better than ever.

Traditional hiring mechanisms such as job boards and active recruiting continue to exist, but now technology and culture have adjusted to level the playing field. LinkedIn is now the professional Facebook and the de facto market for professional talent, and recruitment bonuses are mobilizing young professionals to tap into their personal networks actively.

Cultural trends are also having an impact. Base compensation is less of a lever as people are seeking more flexibility and prioritizing personal and family time. This means that smaller companies can offer more uniquely tailored total compensation packages that are competitive. Private companies may also be benefiting from the fact that many people want to work in smaller organizations where they feel they can have a bigger impact.

However, it’s a different story for companies outside of Central Canada. Companies are responding to the drop in revenues by managing all costs, including talent. That condition has created an opportunity not seen for a while in Western Canada where top talent is available on the market at reasonable rates.

The energy economy’s cyclical pattern has created these conditions before and this is not the first time the West has ridden the wave – though there is the added complexity now of a change in energy industry dynamics with the push to alternative energy that may lengthen the recovery period and threatens whether the sector will ever reach previous highs. In other words, the risk of losing talent in another big wave is potentially lower.

In motorsports there is a saying that races are won in the corners, not the straights. How a company chooses to navigate in a downturn will enable it to outperform when economic activity picks up. Companies should selectively choose people who can be developed into key players, who fit the culture, and who see that the industry is changing. They should be hiring and grooming a pool of resources who understand that they need to evolve and be part of a more entrepreneurial, innovative future. These resources might not be the least expensive or the most available, but the smart money is going to be on them. It’s an opportunity to carefully assess the larger talent pool, and choose who best fits your vision of the future of the Western economy.

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