Survey Reveals Business Leaders Optimistic about Future Operations but Skilled Labour Shortage Worsening
Four out of five Manitoba business leaders say that COVID-19 continued to have some level of impact on their business operations in 2021, but overall sentiment and outlook has brightened dramatically, with 89% describing themselves as optimistic about their business operations.
The 2021 Manitoba Business Outlook Survey, commissioned by the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce (MCC) and conducted by Leger between November 9 and 29, 2021, revealed that Manitoba business leaders seem to have a renewed sense of confidence that we’re moving in the right direction – in terms of business operations and growth predictions, government pandemic management, and competitiveness – but there are challenges.
“This survey, our fourth annual, assesses confidence levels, identifies emerging issues, and tracks changes, patterns, and challenges, ultimately so MCC can be laser-focused in our advocacy,” says Chuck Davidson, MCC President & CEO. “This year’s results are interesting because our members are overwhelmingly positive, possibly because we’re in a much better place now than we were during last year’s survey. But to recover and grow, they need workers, and we’ve heard loud and clear, they’re unable to find them. Workforce is THE hot button issue, followed by worries about cash flow, keeping employees and customers safe, supply chain challenges, and digital/technological adaptation – our marching orders as a business association are pretty clear.”
When asked for their opinion on whether the situation related to access to skilled labour has improved, stayed the same, or worsened over the past 2 to 3 years, more than half (51%) of all respondents said it has worsened, an increase of 29 points over the 2020 survey.
When we examine response data by business size, 61% of small businesses, 67% of small-medium, and 82% of medium-sized businesses say the labour market situation has worsened over the last few years, compared to just 28% of large-sized employers.
When we asked about the types of positions that organizations are having the most difficulty filling, 32% of respondents told us that skilled workers are most in demand. This number is up from 23% last year, and the need for skilled labour is felt most acutely in the construction, manufacturing, agriculture, and transportation sectors. Demand for managers is also higher this year with 23% of respondents suggesting that these positions are hard to fill. While administrative and clerical positions weren’t even on the radar in 2020, this year, 25% of respondents told us that they were having trouble filling these types of positions, with the restaurant, hospitality, tourism and recreation sectors being hit the hardest.
“We parsed out the data through the lens of specific sectors and by business size, and the overall pandemic impact continues to be quite different – even 22 months in,” says Davidson. “Large organizations have had the resources to shift, adapt, and accept that there is no going back to what was, and they simply do not experience the pandemic the way smaller businesses do. This still isn’t a level playing field.”
The 2021 survey results re-affirmed that COVID-19 continues to affect some more intensely than others, with restaurants, hospitality, tourism spinning their wheels. These businesses are the most likely to report a decrease in sales, with 59% saying they’re experiencing pandemic-related revenue impact; they rank highest of all sector categories in terms of concerns about cash flow at 29%, and half of them say they’re still operating at reduced capacity, a substantially higher proportion than any other sector. Interestingly, 41% of retail/services reported decreased sales.
“From Leger’s perspective, Manitoba’s business community leaders are feeling brighter about what’s around the corner, but we still see disparate effects by sector and size of organization,” says Andrew Enns, Executive VP – Winnipeg, Leger. “Bottom line is there is still tough work to be done to successfully mange through these pandemic times, no matter what type of organization you’re in. Upskilling and reskilling employees is obviously critical to solving workforce challenges, as is restoring immigration, but we’ve also been thrust towards technology adoption and a transformed workplace culture created by a distributed workforce. We are defining the post-pandemic labour landscape and workplace experience as we move forward, with some businesses still trying to find their footing. The Chambers plays a critical role in ensuring the business community continues to work together to ensure all businesses get through this.”
In terms of workforce findings, on average, 40% of employees are still working in a hybrid model, and 48% of survey respondents say that hybrid work is serving them well. Ultimately, this will have implications for employee connections and connectivity, real estate occupancy, downtown vibrancy and sustainability, and more.
“We recognize these issues are global, and certainly not unique to Manitoba, but we need made-in-Manitoba solutions to solve our local workforce challenges and fuel recovery,” says Davidson. “To energize operations for 2022, we encourage all Manitoba business leaders to take advantage of opportunities for efficiency through technology, to invest in training and development, to continue supporting our local economy, and to explore local supply options, so we can all feel that sense of optimism.”
Delivered in conjunction with survey partner Leger, and supported by CPHR Manitoba, World Trade Centre Winnipeg, Red River College Polytechnic, the Rural Manitoba Economic Development Organization (RMED), and Digital Manitoba Initiative, the 2021 survey also revealed:
- Cash flow is still the single greatest internal operational concern for Manitoba businesses with 15% of respondents choosing cash flow as their top concern, although this is a decrease of 14 points from last year. Leaders are worried about keeping employees and customers safe (14% selected this as their chief concern), although 85% reported that they were confident in their ability to handle a workplace virus exposure. Third highest concern was employee mental health (12%). In fact, 66% of employers told us that their employees have voiced mental health concerns since the start of the pandemic.
- More than two-thirds of respondents say they are pleased with the federal government’s pandemic response (68% say they’ve done a good job), and 64% say the provincial government has responded well.
- 77% of respondents say they believe Manitoba is on the right track/headed in the right direction, as compared to 48% saying this in the 2020 Manitoba Business Outlook Survey.
ABOUT THE 2021 MANITOBA BUSINESS OUTLOOK SURVEY: 419 Manitoba business decision-makers successfully completed the survey. Since much of the research was conducted from a list database, the sample is considered to be non-probability and therefore, margins of error are not applicable. For contextual purposes, a probability sample of a survey size of 419 cases with this sample frame theoretically carries a confidence interval of approximately +/- 4.7 percent, 19 times out of 20.
Thank you again to our 2021 survey partners, Leger, CPHR Manitoba, Red River College, World Trade Centre Winnipeg, the Rural Manitoba Economic Development Corporation, and the Digital Manitoba Initiative, without your support we could not do this important work.