How to Overcome a Labour Shortage

JoAnne Mather details seven steps that enabled her to help ClearStream Energy land top talent from a diminished pool of potential hires

JoAnne Mather (Photo: Stephanie Cragg)

1. Understand what drives the business

Over the course of her 25-year career, JoAnne Mather, vice president of human resources and health, safety, and environment at ClearStream Energy, has learned to understand what drives a business. “What’s critical to your business’s success?” she continues to ask herself when starting any new job. “And what does human resources contribute to those drivers?”

At ClearStream, the answer to both questions is: people. “We provide to our customers a skilled, knowledgeable, and safe workforce,” Mather says. “As a result, we’re dedicated to recruiting the right people at the right time.”

2. Identify the challenges

Approximately four years after the formation of ClearStream, its owners acquired 15 successful companies in diverse locations, and they asked their management team to consolidate the businesses. “Early on, it was clear—from economic growth projections and demographic data—that a labour shortage was on the horizon,” Mather says. “So, as we went through the consolidation process that would create ClearStream, we had to address the labour shortage as well.”

3. Understand how challenges will affect the company

Today, the unemployment rate is 4.9 percent in Alberta and 7.1 across Canada as a whole, and the numbers get worse in individual markets. In the energy industry, for example, there is a marked shortage of skilled tradespeople such as pipe fitters, welders, insulators, and millwrights. That’s a problem, Mather says, because “they are integral to the construction of the megaprojects in Alberta as well as the maintenance of those facilities, which is a core business for ClearStream.”

4. Develop a value proposition

At the time of its consolidation efforts, ClearStream was not yet known as ClearStream, and Mather immediately recognized the need for a strong mission statement to solidify the company’s identity. “We had to define our purpose and core values, what we stood for, and what we wanted current employees to be proud of, because if we didn’t know who we were internally, we couldn’t bring a value proposition to potential employees,” Mather says.

• ClearStream’s revenue has approximately doubled over the past 3 years

• The company has reduced recordable injuries by 55% during its period of increased growth

• Headcount during the company’s spring peak season has increased by approximately 74% since 2010

5. Market yourself

Mather knew that ClearStream also needed to present an attractive, consistent image to prospective employees. So she helped the company partner with a marketing agency, Idea Factory, and together the two businesses developed strategies to help ClearStream stand out from the crowd. They created a full brand image, including a logo, and ClearStream’s management team researched its market from a labour perspective to understand what potential new hires might be looking for.

6. Make a strong impression

Given the competition for labour in Alberta, many different companies were advertising for the province’s available talent in many different ways. “It was important to me that our campaign be memorable,” Mather says.

She and ClearStream continued to work with Idea Factory to come up with truly distinct advertising, including a first-of-its-kind 30-foot billboard in the Edmonton International Airport. It provided instant name recognition and caught the attention of businessmen as well as workers travelling to and from the oil sands.

7. Provide what employees are seeking

“Because of the tight labour market, we really wanted to understand what people were looking for,” Mather says. ClearStream began conducting research early during its consolidation, and it learned that potential employees wanted quite a bit more than fair compensation.

The result was an advertising campaign titled “Jobs with Flexibility.” “The idea was that we have employment opportunities that suit everyone,” Mather says. “If you want to work in a shop environment in Edmonton and be home with your family every night, we can offer that. If you want to work long shifts out of town in the spring and fall so [that] you can take off the nonpeak seasons, then we can offer that. If you want to work in any region across Alberta or northeast British Columbia, we have those locations available.”