In just a matter of months, Toronto Region has found itself in an enviable position: basking in much-deserved attention as a parade of global companies, from Amazon to Sidewalk Labs to General Motors, recognize our region as an exceptional place to invest. While it’s certainly a proud moment for all of us who have long promoted Toronto Region as an excellent place to work, live and grow, it’s important to ask, “What must we do to keep up on top?”
From our vantage point, immersed in the region’s economic growth and talent management challenges, the answer is clear: While many companies have delivered a clear nod of approval to the caliber of our current workforce, a looming talent gap threatens our ability to fill leadership roles and source the skills needed to sustain growth for the future.
In short, for the region to continue to be Canada’s economic engine for growth, we must ensure that all businesses—from emerging fintech, life sciences and next gen manufacturers to mature, family-run enterprises—are taking a longer-sighted approach to attract, develop and retain the leadership talent required to match their ambitions.
Now make no mistake, we have many strengths to build upon. Our region is seeing impressive growth, as a diverse array of organizations set up shop or expand their local presence, such as Sidewalk Labs investment in our waterfront, the new General Motors testing facility, and the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence. We can credit our region’s success to many factors, including diversity, stable government, education, health services, and our coveted quality of life. Nor should we forget Prime Minister Trudeau’s efforts to trumpet Canada’s brand on the world stage and promote the exciting transformation underway in our largest city. Toronto’s time is now.
At the same time, we must acknowledge that our key employers could soon face a crippling skills shortage. While the region is drawing thousands of newcomers, the data also suggests that 30-40 per cent of the workforce is nearing retirement. We are seeing an alarming shortage of C-suite-ready talent at the VP level in all sectors. In addition, the next generation of leaders are about 10 years younger—and three roles behind—today’s executives, whose shoes they must step into. This emerging talent gap is already partly to blame for the often-reported failure of Canadian companies to scale up, expand, sustain innovation and survive in the global economy – and the gap is growing.
So what must business leaders and boards do to ensure their organization doesn’t become the tale of ‘the race car that couldn’t find a driver’? To start, they must increasingly invest in succession planning and talent development. There are excellent tools that can help organizations identify the next generation of leadership candidates so they can put a plan in place for them to gain the knowledge and experience they need to assume executive roles.
Forward-thinking organizations are developing high-potential talent through work exchanges in other cities or countries and through talent clusters, where people come together through multi-disciplinary, multi-functional collaboration, allowing them to learn from each other and develop news skills. Others are embracing the ‘gig economy’—tapping into the deep pool of experienced interim executives that can be brought in to address key organizational challenges such as implementing large-scale projects, innovating new product lines and expanding into new markets. These interim executives, most often seasoned veterans, bring critical skills, experience and fresh thinking to existing leadership teams.
Finally, we can learn from leading organizations with innovative ideas to help our region maintain its competitive strengths. One of those strengths is our diversity. We must move past our warm welcome of highly-skilled newcomers and galvanize their talent to make our region even more inclusive—and global.
Of course, there is a role for public and civic organizations to play in creating the optimal environment for growth by developing future-focused workforces at post-secondary institutions and promoting the region’s success story far and wide to attract further investment.
But as we savor our moment in the global spotlight, we urge our business leaders to safeguard their growth and focus on building leadership talent for their organizations, their home city and their country.
Carl Lovas is Chairman & CEO of Odgers Berndtson in Canada
Jan De Silva is President & CEO of the Toronto Region Board of Trade
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