man and woman working at a bakery, standing in front of computer

Small companies, especially if they want to grow, often have trouble finding qualified applicants to fill the open positions. (Photo by

Canada | Small business

Retain skilled employees with these key resources

Small businesses often have trouble finding qualified applicants to fill the open positions that might even nudge them into the realm of medium-sized business and beyond

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Small business, we’re told, is the engine of our economy. As of December 2015, Statistics Canada reported that 97.9 per cent of Canada’s 1.17 million employers were small businesses with fewer than 100 employees.

Yet those companies, even if they want to grow, often have trouble finding qualified applicants to fill the open positions that might even nudge them into the realm of medium-sized business and beyond, especially with the latest labour force numbers putting the national unemployment rate at 5.8 per cent.

Security Compass Group is living with the labour shortage challenge today, said CFO David Rea, CPA. The software security company provides professional services, training and a platform that automates security requirements across the software development lifecycle, and it’s growing—or trying to.

Assuming, Rea said, it can find qualified applicants for its open positions—more than a dozen at the moment.

“While I can’t comment on a general labour shortage across the board in Canada, I can certainly say that in the tech-specific industries and for tech-specific roles, it is getting increasingly difficult and expensive to attract and retain strong talent,” he said. “For small businesses, this can be a particularly daunting challenge because they typically don't have the deep pockets, brand recognition or cachet and other resources available to them that are at the disposal of the large companies."

However, Rea said, there are still resources, both internal and external, to help small businesses find and retain skilled employees.

First, he cited the basics: a reasonably competitive compensation package of wages, bonuses, and benefits, augmented by additional perks like generous time off and vacation policies, stock options, spot awards, training, and other indirect benefits that are meaningful to the target employee. He looks at his staffing mix the way a professional sports team with a salary cap would, mixing seasoned veterans with new hires and employees who have developed new skills internally.

Cultural factors—not just the much-cited pool tables and espresso machines, but the way people interact with each other—are equally important. “This all contributes to a company brand, which is felt internally and … can be reported on externally through sites such as Glassdoor,” Rea noted. “These days, if a company broadcasts their mission, vision and core values internally, but does not walk the talk, there are many ways in which that can come back to haunt them. But conversely, in a company that does what it says it will, you can encourage people to pay back that goodwill by trumpeting it from the same hilltop.”

Governments can also play a part. Both federal and provincial governments offer programs to both grow skills needed by business, and to help small business pay for the employees they need to grow. The Apprenticeship Job Creation Tax Credit, for example, is a non-refundable tax credit of up to $2,000 per year for each eligible apprentice.

For companies with fewer than 50 employees, the Canada Summer Jobs program could help you pay up to 50 per cent of an eligible student’s salary (100 per cent if you're a not-for-profit). The value of the subsidy is based on the minimum wage for your region.

Canadian financial website The Balance recently published a list of small business grants available federally and from the provinces. Job training for everyone from students to veterans and those with disabilities is the focus of the Government of Canada job training site.

Finally, Rea recommends consulting with your province’s economic development office, and with traditional accounting firms, both of which could provide guidance, as well as partnering with educational institutions that can connect you with new grads.