Quebec municipalities struggling to cope with labour shortage
Published Sunday, April 9, 2023 10:51AM EDT
Retirements, specialized jobs that are difficult to fill, and new expertises; like the private sector, municipalities in Quebec are also having trouble filling posts in the ongoing labour shortage.
Firefighters, managers, engineers, technicians, day camp counsellors, lifeguards, recreation managers, notaries, lawyers, horticulturists, administrative professionals and more: the variety of positions available in the municipal sector is impressive and for a good reason.
In recent years, the field of competence of municipalities has expanded, creating new labour needs.
"If we compare ourselves to about 15 years ago, we realize that the scarcity of personnel has spread to all employment bodies," said Pointe-Claire director of human resources Vincent Proulx, who is also president of the Gestionnaires en ressources humaines des municipalités du Québec (GRHMQ).
"One big challenge is engineers. Everyone is looking for engineers," said Gatineau Mayor and Quebec union of municipalities (UMQ) chair France Bélisle.
In Gatineau, about 40 jobs are posted every week, which represents one per cent of the municipality's staff.
And the further away from the major centres, the fewer candidates there are for the jobs posted.
"The time to fill positions has increased, especially since the pandemic. Historically, we would post for two to four weeks, conduct interviews, and then have a notice period from the candidate to their previous employer. This gave us a period of about two months," said City of Matane director of human resources Marc-André Lavoie.
"In the current context, this period has doubled, even tripled, with an additional period of about 60 days, on average, to hire. Even if we proceed quickly with the posting, we have two or three months when things are going well, so if we add this 60 days, plus the interviews, and the two to four weeks notice to the other employer, it takes much longer," says Proulx.
"In Bromont, for example, it sometimes takes two or three postings for the same position to find the ideal candidate," says its mayor, Louis Villeneuve. "We post, and we don't find. But we don't want to hire someone just for the sake of hiring someone because if we do, it's a waste of time."
"The use of recruiters and external human resources firms is becoming more frequent and is now limited to specialized positions. We used to use this service to fill senior management positions," said Bélisle. "We didn't need it for anything else. Now, we still receive resumes, but the candidates don't necessarily have the right skills."
Several municipalities have been forced to cut back on their services due to a lack of manpower.
According to an in-house survey by GRMHQ, 25 per cent of respondents have either postponed projects planned in the three-year capital program, reduced the hours of operation of their services, such as the library and their recreation centre, or reduced the number of courses, for example. Other tasks, such as inspections or preventive maintenance, have also been deferred.
"Some municipalities are considering sharing human resources to meet their needs. We're starting to hear about it, especially in the IT sector, where there is currently a shortage of professionals," says Proulx.
However, it is the conditions promised by the private sector that make it increasingly difficult for municipalities to recruit qualified candidates.
"We have companies that go out and look for young people at school," said Proulx. "They offer them a scholarship or mentoring and tell them to come back when they graduate."
"It's extremely difficult, especially for smaller municipalities, to offer working conditions that are as attractive as those of the private sector, but also of other levels of government," said Bélisle. "In Gatineau, the federal government has emptied my legal department because I can't offer the same conditions."
So some employees are playing a game of musical chairs, moving from one municipality to another to improve their lot. So the vacancy is also moving.
"I often use the analogy of the National Hockey League: it's always the same players, but they change teams," said Villeneuve.
There is competition between cities and even between MRCs.
"Talent is being snatched up," said Bélisle. "If you look at the smaller municipalities in the metropolitan area, they often feel like a breeding ground for Montreal because they can't offer the same salaries and the same opportunities for advancement."
BECOMING AN ATTRACTIVE EMPLOYER
However, municipalities are aware that they need to become more attractive as an employer if they are to compete.
"The committee set up by the UMQ has been mandated to study the issue; 87 per cent of its members say they are concerned about their attractiveness. We must question ourselves, modernize, and go digital where necessary. We have to modernize from within and present ourselves as a sexy, contemporary and modern employer," said Bélisle.
"They are thinking about improving the work-life balance of their employees," said Lavoie. "They are also asking themselves what they can change in their conditions and environment to make the employee's work experience more enjoyable."
The implementation of internal development plans to ensure a satisfying career path for employees is also on the cards to retain workers.
"Based on the results of its consultations, the UMQ committee intends to set up an 'employer brand,' like the City of Bromont, which has just launched its own to attract new talent. We want to attract the best, so we put forward themes to show that we are the best employers," said Villeneuve.
Bélisle is confident that workers will find a place to thrive in the municipal world, as she has chosen to do by running for office in 2021.
"I feel like I'm working for my neighbour," she said. "For me, having my city as an employer is choosing to work for my community."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on April 9, 2023.