Jane pulls into work, just as she does every Monday morning. After parking her car in the underground lot, she heads to the front desk to drop off her grocery list and her clothes for dry-cleaning. She also hands the concierge the keys to her car and instructs him it’s time for her regular wash and oil change. She’ll need the tires checked and all the fluids topped up this time, she adds. That’s because she’s starting a three-month paid sabbatical next week. She’ll be fulfilling her lifelong dream of driving across the country—from coast to coast—to paint the rugged Canadian landscape.

When she arrives at her desk a few minutes later, she logs onto the company’s HR intranet site to see how many dollars she has left in her health spending account. If there are enough credits left, she plans to purchase a new pair of prescription sunglasses for her trip. After all, she’ll be driving straight into the sunrise for the first half of her trek, and into the sunset for the return home. And if there’s still money in her account after that, perhaps she’ll indulge in a massage at her journey’s end. This is just a glimpse at what employee benefits could look like in the not-too-distant future. In fact, offerings such as concierge services, health spending accounts and paid sabbaticals have already begun to sprout up as employers look for ways to attract and retain a dwindling pool of talented workers. Nowhere is this talent shortage more acutely felt than in the West, particularly Alberta where an oildriven economic boom is creating jobs faster than the mass influx of people can fill them. And, not coincidentally, it’s also in the West where many of the most creative and aggressive benefits offerings are showing up. With ‘Help Wanted’ signs becoming commonplace, it’s employees, not employers, who are calling the shots. With their skills in high demand, employees know they have the luxury of waiting for the highest bidder. But it isn’t just money that they’re holding out for when scoping out prospective employers. They’re also looking at work environment, flexibility, time off and generous benefits offerings. For our annual report on pensions and benefits issues in Western Canada, we’ve invited industry experts from the region to examine how the booming economy and the dearth of skilled employees is shaping the pension and benefits landscape on Canada’s frontier. We’ve also profiled plan sponsors who have taken innovative steps to attract and retain employees. It’s only a matter of time before the talent shortage makes its way east to the rest of Canada. In the meantime, recent developments in the West provide us with a look at what the future may hold and what it’ll take to grab the attention of a more demanding employee.

Don Bisch

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