Unusual Suspects Commodify Labour Due to Talent Supply Shortages

Reactions to Talent Supply Shortages

I often interact with labour leaders regarding talent supply. Recently I noticed a pattern among specific labour leaders and progressive commentators that concerns me.

Many notice a shortage of talent supply. That is a fact, and paying heed to that is necessary.

What gives rise to concern is some leaders’ reaction to it. Two often-heard reactions are:

  1. Union bargaining power has increased due to the shortage, so employers must simply pay more, and
  2. How dare you think about supplementing the supply with temporary foreign workers.

Labour Is Not a Commodity

Talent supply is not a commodity because:

  1. Labour ought not to be a commodity, and
  2. Labour is not a commodity!

Since 1948, the International Labour Organization’s fundamental principle has been that labour is not a commodity, which is in clause I(a) of the ILO Constitution.

It seems strange for some progressives to treat talent supply like a commodity. There is a fundamental and widely held principle among progressives and the population not to do so. Society should not treat people as though they are commodities or widgets. Yet many union leaders and progressive pundits declare that wages need to increase simply because of a shortage, as though wage rates should fluctuate as oil prices do.

Now to our second point. People are not commodities. Increasing wages does not increase the talent supply. People are not “produced,” and talent supply is not increased by simply adding a third line at the factory. It is not the same as supply-chain shortages resulting from a lack of microchips for the sale of automobiles. You can up the production on microchips, but that is not the case for increasing the supply of people. Yet, some labour leaders and employers behave as though that is the case.

Talent supply is increased in the short term by increasing productivity, adding hours, or immigration (permanent and temporary). Economies increase talent capacity over the medium and long term by increasing productivity, innovation and, through technological advances, increasing the population, training and aligning a proportion of education systems towards supporting talent needs.

Solution-based Responses, Not Reactions

The country needs thoughtful, grounded solutions. These include, yes, in some cases, labour market (wage) adjustments but also:

  • Immigration;
  • Access to temporary talent supply from out of the country;
  • Innovation;
  • Task-shifting;
  • Task-sharing;
  • Leveraging the gig-economy; and,
  • Leveraging alternative talent supply sources.

Human Resources, Unions, and Many Employers React Instead of Respond

For years we have seen the demographic crisis coming, and it is now upon us. The talent supply situation is a function of many factors. Our inadequate response and surprise to this foreseen event mark an epic failure for labour organizations and employers alike in many industries and occupations.

Some unions kept membership intake low to ensure their stagnant and aging members were in short supply. In construction, we should note that 7-8% unemployment is needed simply to accommodate the movement between jobs. Some hiring halls have been planning to fail by default for a long time. Plant, transportation, warehousing, manufacturing, facility, and public sector unions push back on equity, diversity and inclusion efforts out of a protectionist stance.

Employers have relied too heavily on recruiters to drive their talent supply strategy. Comparing a recruiter and a well-rounded, degreed HR professional is akin to comparing a doorbell installer to an electrician. A doorbell installer can install doorbells faster than anyone. However, you would not ask a doorbell installer to diagnose and repair a problem with your electrical panel. Employers have been asking recruiters to diagnose their talent supply woes. Recruiters are capable of identifying and describing symptoms but are not usually capable of getting to root causes and developing solutions.

Employers, unions, and human resource professionals must act more carefully and professionally.

See Adverse Reactions to Temporary Workers for What They Are

Adverse reactions to responsibly designed temporary foreign worker programs are attempts to exacerbate talent supply concerns and create a crisis for self-serving ends. The same groups who push back against temporary foreign worker programs also push back against diversity, inclusion and equity programs to push themselves up by pushing others down.

Respectfully submitted,

Sam Kemble

Executive Operations Officer

With People, Inc.

One Dish, One Spoon

What can we learn from the One Dish, One Spoon Agreement?

One Dish, One Spoon: “[The treaty] between the Anishinaabe, Mississaugas and Haudenosaunee that bound them to share the territory and protect the land. Subsequent Indigenous Nations and peoples, Europeans and all newcomers have been invited into this treaty in the spirit of peace, friendship and respect.” Land acknowledgement | This is a Canadian Issue: Reflecting on TRC Calls to Action (ryerson.ca)

Members of Indigenous Nations and Europeans are invited to share a meal together, traditionally beaver tail soup, while eating from one bowl with one spoon. This represented the need to come together in peace, to take what was required for sustenance, leave enough for others to eat, keeping the dish and spoon clean.

The dish represents the shared land from which each community ate, and they ate from one spoon. There was a shared responsibility to ensure the dish was clean and never empty. No knives were at the table, meaning that we must keep the peace.

This led to three basic rules:

  • Take only what you need
  • Leave some for everybody else
  • Keep it clean

Dish With One Spoon | Nandogikendan

How might the three rules from this Treaty help ensure a psychologically safe, welcoming and sustainable place of work?


Take the #20percentchallenge

Visit our homepage to learn more about our Indigenous-owned human resources and labour relations consulting firm serving Canada with offices in Edmonton, Alberta and Prince George and Victoria, British Columbia.

Is it better to be loved than feared? Supervision: Performance Management and Psychological Safety

We have the distinct pleasure of meeting supervisors and managers of every stripe through our work, including those with differing strengths, aptitudes, and experience levels.

Common aspects of the role that many supervisors wrestle with are how to encourage employees to honour the required professional boundaries of the relationship and how to influence employees to afford deference to their position of authority over their team.

Many supervisors go down the path of creating a defensive shell around themselves. This often takes the form of a persona.

That being the goal, there is a conscious decision to create a persona that projects dominance, strength, and, deliberately or not, fear.

In almost every case, such contrived personas are void of a willingness to be authentic and vulnerable with one’s team (something necessary to develop trust).

Under this scheme, assertiveness may be interpreted as aggression. Put more plainly, some supervisors, in playing their part, behave aggressively instead of assertively, whether they intend to or not and whether they even know it.

What happens under these circumstances? When crafting this persona, the supervisor chooses whether it is better to be feared than loved.

Today we revisit this classic question, albeit within the context of performance management, “is it better to be feared than loved.”

Perhaps the most prolifically cited author for the phrase, “it is better to be feared than loved,” is Machiavelli, as cited in “the Prince.”

Before going too far into that specific quote and chapter, we note the Prince, even after all these years, has some measure of controversy among academics. Many questions whether that writing is the most accurate account of Machiavelli’s perspectives.

When the Medici family came into power in Florence, Machiavelli lost his position in civil service. Some believe the Prince was, in a sense, a job application in which he was courting members of the Medici family to gain his position back within the bureaucracy. For Machiavelli’s more audacious statements found in the Prince, I tend to take them with a grain of salt – as I believe he was speaking to a more specific audience.

At the beginning of that chapter, Machiavelli starts by saying that leaders must be “considered merciful and not cruel,” and what is often omitted in the quoted statement is the portion that follows after the comma, which changes the meaning of the sentence significantly. The more fulsome quote is, “It is better to be feared than loved if you cannot be both.”,“…if you cannot be both…”.

No, Machiavelli did not give blank-cheque permission to even the most pragmatic supervisors and managers to be cruel towards and feared by their team.

 In surveys, employers describe some of the traits most desired in their employees. We do not intend for this list is to be exhaustive. We have reduced it to those behaviours reliant on a certain level of cognitive functioning.

Employers want employees to know their strengths, employees who can think independently, solve problems, be innovative, be proactive, and be willing to learn new things.

The stereotypical Machiavellian approach to supervision presumably leads through fear and creates an atmosphere lacking psychological safety.

Employees put into a workplace that lacks psychological safety are more prone to experience a fight or flight reaction and may enter a state of hyper-vigilance, all of which can impair higher-level cognitive functioning.

Instinctively, they are more on the lookout for sabre tooth tigers than finding solutions to overcome the organization’s challenges. This would suggest that having supervisors and managers lead through fear is contrary to the organization’s interests in many situations. That is why it is better to be loved than feared – it is in your own self-interest, and in the organization’s interest.

We at Workforce Delivery throw out a challenge. Test our own leadership style. Consider whether there are improvements that we could make and decide what and how we might transition towards those improvements. Remember, it is better to be loved than feared by your team. Thank you for your time, and have a safe and enriching day.

Workplace Mental Health: Mental Health Moments and the #20PercentChallenge

Many organizations start off meetings with four or more people with a safety moment. Well over ninety percent of these focus on physical safety. Way too many focus on driving conditions (little quips about the commute on the way to work that morning), or the weather. Some safety moment cultures at work have lost their lustre and have turned into morning ice-breaker/socialization moments. If people haven’t tuned out of the conversation entirely, many tune out to the safety purpose of the topic or mindfulness called upon by the good and well-thought-out safety moment. Rarely, do people talk about psychological safety, health and wellness. For too long, our safety moments have avoided the topic of workplace mental health and mental wellness.

However, roughly 1 and 5 people in Canada will encounter a mental wellness or illness challenge in any given year. Imagine, having a risk factor present among the general workplace population at a frequency of twenty percent and not talking about it. Many safety professionals fail miserably in approaching behaviour-based and cultural transformations required to support psychological health and safety. That is because safety professionals are often process leaders, not thought leaders.

Work cultures lacking safety around mental health and awareness can negatively affect those coping with mental health and wellness challenges.

Corporate wellness programs serve otherwise healthy and well employees. Corporate wellness programs fail employees with mental health and wellness concerns and often isolate such employees further.

Telling a person who can barely get out of bed every morning to go for a jog or join a yoga class can further exacerbate someone who needs to start with mental health support.

We can do better by promoting and normalizing people accessing the resources they need through conversations about workplace mental health.

By age forty, 50% of the population will have had a mental health problem or illness. [ Fast Facts about Mental Illness – CMHA National]

Yet, we do not talk about mental health and wellness at work.

This avoidance to hold space and having these conversations must change.

 We need to combat the stigma and normalize the conversation. 

For this reason, we ask each of you to consider taking the #20percentchallenge.

Commit to 20 percent of safety moments per week on mental health and mental wellness topics.

Join the conversation at our Workplace Mental Health page for more resources.




Lateral Violence: When the Oppressed become the Oppressors

Lateral Violence: When the Oppressed become the Oppressors

When the oppressed become the oppressors.

Lateral violence is a form of bullying engaged in by those oppressed and lacking power. 

In a state of anger, fear and at times panic, feeling unable to confront the system that dominates them, they lash out and attack peers and those closest to them, often those also oppressed. 

It is a function of power or lack thereof, and individuals (often targets themselves), without recourse, lash out at whom they can. Unfortunately, the systemic lack of recourse contributes to the release of energy in an unproductive, at times harmful form. It involves a release of energy built up from toxic or traumatic experiences.

Lateral violence is a sad and retraumatizing phenomenon.

Root causes of this tendency include:

  1. colonization,
  2. oppression,
  3. intergenerational trauma,
  4. powerlessness and
  5. the ongoing experience of racism and discrimination.

Resolving this requires confronting it by outing it, naming the damage it causes and acknowledging whom it damages.

Create space for discussions on the topic in general. Engage peers to gain understanding and commit to eradicating the behaviour from the workplace.

Bullying & lateral violence – Creative Spirits


  1. Out it.
  2. Confront It.
  3. Discuss its Causes.

Gain Freedom from It.


Take the #20percentchallenge

To learn more about our labour relations, human resources and recruitment firm, visit our homepage.

Systemic Racism and the Cave Analogy

Today we discuss Plato’s cave analogy and systemic racism in Canada. Like many, we in our firm accept that systemic racism exists throughout Canada and is interwoven into our institutions.

This statement comes neither from a place of judgement nor is it presented to suggest castigation of those subject to the system’s influence within which we all reside.

 Accepting that many forms of racism are prevalent throughout our society is simply an appreciation of the state of things, without judgment – and from there comes, a choice and perhaps, hopefully – a commitment.

 We write this within weeks of May 25, 2020. During this time, much has been in the news which illuminates the pervasiveness of racism in many forms in our institutions, including within our police forces. The police are no worse or better than most of Canada’s institutions.

Recent events reinforce that responsibility to get it right increases exponentially for those who exercise authority, and at times, force over others.

 And as Ibram X Kendi emphasizes in his 2019 book, “How to Be an Antiracist,” getting it right must be viewed, relatively, from where we are at. So, given where we are today, getting it right starts with acknowledging there is a problem. Sadly, for some (but not all) senior leadership positions within police force administration and police member associations, acknowledging that there is a  problem is more than they are willing to offer at the moment. Rather, some choose to deny it with vigour.

 We intend to explore this denial and anchor our discussion; we will reference Plato’s Cave Analogy in his classic, “Republic.”

In the Cave Analogy, Plato considers three people bound in a seated position in a cave with their heads affixed staring at a wall, for their entire life. Light enters from behind them from the mouth of the cave. From time to time, animals cross the mouth of the cave and cast shadows onto the wall they are facing. The three never knew differently, so what they were witnessing on the cave wall, was to them, an accurate reflection of life and reality.

Eventually, the bindings of one of the three came loose. With muscles that had yet been used, the escapee slowly struggled and eventually made their way to the cave entrance.

Upon reaching the mouth of the cave, the escapee experienced a great deal of pain. Eyes that knew only darkness and shadow were exposed to the sun’s bright light for the first time. Soon, the eyes adjusted, and the escapee witnessed the wondrous beauty, fullness and truth of the world.

After exploring, the escapee returned to the cave, wishing to share the freedom and revelation with the escapee’s former cave mates.

The escapee removed the bindings of the cave mates, and they struggled but moved towards the mouth of the cave. As they approached the mouth of the cave, sunlight struck their eyes, causing immense pain. Immediately, they asked why the escapee would cause them such pain and resented the escapee for it.

Ultimately, the pain of exposure to the light and the pain of accepting the truth was too great for the cave mates. Angrily, they hone in on the escapee, whom they stoned to death for causing them such pain, following which, they returned to their seats in the cave to carry on staring at the shadows on the wall.

Racism, including systemic racism, exists in Canada. Despite this, people continue to choose to deny that fact. We should not be surprised. As the cave analogy shows, holding contempt for information that challenges previously held beliefs is human nature. Such denial is neither right nor necessarily permanent.


And what of the visceral, conditioned emotional responses and attacks that come with such denials? Many in pain seek to destroy. They wish to focus their anger towards someone or something, to stop the exchange of information, and then, they wish to carry on living in their cave- in their distorted reality. They choose to deny the existence of systemic racism.

To be racist, that being, “One who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea.” Or, to be antiracist, that being, “One who is supporting an antiracist policy through their action or expressing an antiracist idea.” Objectively, it is impossible to reduce racism without acknowledging that systemic racism exists.

[Ibram X Kendi, 2019]

You’ll note that neither choice represents a static position, both choices describe one engaged in action…being static is not an option.

When looked at this way, this is a journey to embark upon and has nothing to do with permanent condemnations. So given recent events, we choose to, in a non-judgemental way in terms of where we are at today, actively seek new information to permit our eyes to adjust, for the alternative is to stay blind and hurt.

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