Economic Development News & Insight


I’ve often had colleagues tell me that I am passionate about workforce issues. I can’t argue with them, especially when I find myself thinking about it when I wake up in the early morning hours. What is it that keeps me awake at night?  I call it the “Iceberg Dilemma”.

Being from Newfoundland, I had the pleasure (although at the time it was not thought of in that light!) of viewing icebergs as they floated past the bay in the small community in which I lived. For those that know anything about icebergs, it’s said that what you see on top of the water actually only makes up about 1/9 of what’s under the water. I use this analogy because the labour force challenge that is facing many sectors, communities and countries reminds me of an iceberg. People are seeing the “tip of the iceberg” but not paying enough attention to what is happening below the surface.

While the recession caused havoc for many businesses and their employees, it also flipped attention from a skills shortage to high unemployment rates. Not surprising, many companies went into survival mode and looked to reduce expenses, bunker down and keep their eyes directed towards the end of the tunnel – it became a battle for survival. Canada has done fairly well in riding out the storm and today the topics of workforce availability, skills alignment, and increasing job vacancies, are starting to move back to centre stage.

So how can communities best support local businesses and assist them with accessing the right talent with the right skills at the right time. Because we must remember, that “just in time” applies to more than physical inventory. My experience tells me the solution lies in understanding the lay of the land, working collaboratively because no one organization has all the answers, and acting on a plan that is grounded in local evidence and supported by all that can move it forward. Integrating the strategies of such organizations as local municipal governments, post-secondary institutions, boards of education, and other influencing entities in the community brings power in numbers to the solution. No man is an island, and no community will solve their labour force needs without understanding and responding to what is happening both inside and outside of their geographic boundaries. This is a national challenge and the solution lies in a national workforce strategy.

Move the conversation forward!



3 responses to “The iceberg dilemma”

  1. Sarah Lewis says:

    I feel like the problems being experienced now are also the tip of the iceberg compared to workforce gaps anticipated in the future. Communities that start taking action on this issue now will be in a better position to manage anticipated shortages.

  2. Michael haywood says:

    If communities desire just-in-time-talent with the the appropriate set of capabiliites designed for the enterprises of the future, then the options are not only limited but demanding. First of all such talent is highly mobile. So existing firms have to be encouraged to find ways of developing and hanging on to their “high potentials”. First, development has to be aligned with strategies. Then it is important for companies to look for experiences that will both challenge and motivate people. Senior management’s involvement in mentoring has to be encouraged. Rewards and incentives have to be carefully thought out and calibrated.
    For all the emphasis on collaboration these days, it remains a difficult endeavour in our competitive world. Certainly the disparate community-based organizations involved in developing talent can and do cooperate, but collaboration these days has to be more intensive as well as extensive. In the “Tipping Point” Malcolm Gladwell used the term “connector” to describe people with many ties to different social worlds. But it isn’t the number of people we know as much as our ability to link people, ideas and resources that would not otherwise bump into each other. Communities can, indeed must, foster this connectedness.
    So -called “Smart Communities” create an edge in this regard by providing the infrastructure that allows their citizens to connect more easily to the outside world. Of course, there is more to collaboration in that it is essential to explore those opportunities that will lead to the development of a collaboration culture within organizations, to engage with consumers in co-creation projects, and to encourage more innovation through partnerships. Some communities have gone so far as to create Centers for Excellence based around an industry cluster.

    Of course, all of this requires a style of leadership that fosters collaboration – loosening control without losing control. In today’s world, adaptability, creativity and innovativeness appear to be pre-conditions for organizations and individuals to thrive. This means that organizations will have to do the best they can to help individuals learn, adapt, improve, and deliver results – a difficult undertaking especially for small- to medium-sized enterprises. They need assistance.