Engage your employees if you want to keep them, inaugural Ottawa Talent Summit hears


With unemployment in the National Capital Region near a record low and competition for skilled labour more fierce than ever in many sectors, employers need to find ways to create a “bigger sense of belonging” among workers, an Ottawa HR expert says. 

Finding the right people in a tight talent market is a major challenge for many companies, says James Baker, the co-founder and CEO of Ottawa-based executive search firm Keynote Group. Employers need to be “present in the eyes of the candidate market,” he said, by clearly communicating what they are about, what they stand for and what it is like to work for them. 

“Organizations are responsible for ensuring that the right messages are getting out there and they are controlling the narrative, to a certain degree, so that they are being properly understood by potential candidates or employees,” Baker explained at the inaugural Ottawa Talent Summit, an event hosted by the Ottawa Board of Trade and the Ottawa Business Journal at Kanata’s Brookstreet Hotel on Sept. 23 and 24.

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That requires a concerted effort that goes beyond just posting job openings and instead convinces potential new hires that they will have a clear sense of mission at a new employer, he added.

“It is important for HR professionals, recruitment professionals to always consider the marketing and the communication of the values and the purpose of an organization,” Baker said. “It’s not about a one-time instance of posting a job and waiting for somebody to apply. It’s an ongoing, potentially, marketing challenge you’re taking on.

“Getting the right people in, so that they’re engaged and (they’ve) bought into your purpose and your vision, becomes crucial because there’s that bigger sense of belonging.”

Executive coach Craig Dowden, author of the book Do Good to Lead Well: The Science and Practice of Positive Leadership, echoed that sentiment.

“Everyone talks about the war for top talent and how do we recruit the best and the brightest,” he said in an interview with OBJ. “(Workers) are looking for an organization with a purpose and they are looking for an organization with a clear and powerful ‘why.’ And they want to be there not just to do a job. It’s really to get behind a movement, if you will. And people are looking for how to tap into their talents, be at their best, and leaders are essential around that.”

Representatives from a range of industries joined together at the two-day event to discuss a common interest: how to recruit and retain the best employees and make sure the National Capital Region keeps pace in the global race for top-notch talent. 

‘Important first step’

Baker said the event shows that the region’s business leaders are taking the issue seriously.

“It was the first time that we really managed to get all those people around the table, in one room for a discussion,” said Baker, who co-chairs the Ottawa Board of Trade’s talent committee and was a keynote speaker on Sept. 24. 

“So, I think that’s an important first step because we know from the Business Growth Survey that talent is a fundamental concern, a fundamental priority for every organization in the city. So that for me was the key objective and the upside, on top of that, is that there was a lot of good information that we shared.”

The event kicked off on Sept. 23 with the 13th annual Employees’ Choice Awards, which recognize businesses with the best results in an employee engagement survey conducted by The Ottawa Business Journal and the Board of Trade. 

For the first time, the top 10 recipients were ranked, with security technology firm Solink coming in at No. 1. It’s the third year in a row that Solink has been named an ECA recipient. 

Following Solink were Rewind, Alphabet Creative, InGenius Software, GGFL, NewFound Recruiting, Brookstreet Hotel and The Marshes Golf Club, BriteSky Technologies, Syntronic Research and Development Canada and Mindwire Systems. 

Dowden, who presented a keynote address during the summit’s opening night, said he was familiar with some of the award-winning companies and their work. 

“I think what was really interesting about each of the award winners is how they really had something above and beyond their individual bottom line, like this is almost like a family, this is a mission that we pursue,” he explained. “And I think that’s so important because sometimes we can lose that in the pace of work.”

Baker said he hopes the event motivates different industries and organizations in Ottawa-Gatineau to come together more often to discuss pressing issues facing the region’s employers. 

“For us, the next step is to not make this just a one-time event,” he said. “There should be ongoing conversations about how we can work collectively to get more people to consider Ottawa home ​– the place they work, the place they live, the place that they play as well.”

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