New technologies, disruptive innovation and global competition for talent are raising skill requirements and changing expectations for entry-level employees and future leaders, according to a new report by Aon Hewitt.

The report, conducted in partnership with the Business Council of Canada, is based on a survey of 90 Canadian companies, including major banks and other financial services providers, retailers, manufacturers, telecommunications providers, energy producers, mining companies, food processors, transportation firms and real estate developers.

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Respondents to the survey said post-secondary graduates are adequately prepared for the workforce but they noted that the ability to carry out basic functions is no longer enough for most entry-level jobs.

“Although technical competency is needed to get the job done, companies are increasingly looking for young employees who can absorb information quickly, work in teams and solve complex problems,” said John Manley, president and chief executive officer of the Business Council of Canada.

Survey participants also said they’re particularly interested in hiring young people with a strong complement of soft skills, such as collaboration and teamwork, communication and critical-thinking skills. They’re also seeking employees who have participated in co-op programs and other work-integrated learning experiences and those who have strengths or expertise in a variety of fields.

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Roughly half of the employers in the study said leadership and management positions are the most difficult to fill. Companies also highlighted shortages in the skilled trades, information technology, business intelligence, engineering and cyber-security/risk management.

Difficulties in recruiting people with the right mix of skills will affect companies’ planned investments, according to 93% of respondents, while more than half said they expect the impact will be “moderate to significant.”

More than half of respondents indicated that leadership development programs, both within and outside their companies, aren’t keeping up with evolving requirements.

Read: Desjardins, KPMG and Rogers among top employers for young people

“A key differentiator between top-performing companies and the rest is the ability to actively grow leadership capabilities at all levels within the organization,” said Neil Crawford, partner and Canada talent practice director at Aon Hewitt.

“The fact that the companies that participated in the survey recognize this need is encouraging, but the hard part is successfully building a solid internal program to identify, assess, develop and engage future leaders.”

Additional findings from the report include:

  • Large companies are investing more in workforce learning and development; and
  • Most respondents believe their companies are ready to handle anticipated demographic shifts, in particular the coming wave of retirements among baby boomers.

Read: Employers must do more to help staff transition to retirement

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