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SFU Computer Prof Gets Data-Mining Nod

That the world is awash in data is in no doubt. Less reliable is a widespread conviction that the folks who populate that world have a good handle on what to do with all of them. Which explains why a guy like Jian Pei deserves the accolades of which he’s currently in receipt.


Pei, a computing science professor at Simon Fraser University and a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Big Data Science, was selected this week as a 2015 Fellow by the world’s leading computing society.

The Association for Computing Machinery’s fellowship acknowledges Pei’s contributions to the foundation, methodology and applications of data mining.

As a renowned researcher in the areas of data science, data mining and big data, Pei has a special focus on mastering the algorithms for frequent-pattern data mining. Useful in a whack of applications, these fundamental calculations are of particular value to individuals involved in retail planning. With them, retail marketers charged with making sense of the millions of transactions and hundreds of millions of products sold every day get a prescribed route to strategic merchandising.

Among other things, Pei’s frequent-pattern data-mining research provides vital insight into what products customers most often buy in combination. Retailers use it to strategically arrange their merchandise—and drive sales in turn—in the most effective, hard-data-informed way.

It also gives them an understanding of which smaller items they can promote to leverage the sales of larger, bigger-ticket items.

Pei’s algorithms have been patented, adapted by industry and even used in textbooks.

The Breakfast Method

From asking applicants to submit an essay or sell you something during the interview to insisting they solve logic puzzles or play word-association games, it’s all about the unconventional in the hiring game today.

But the cake topper is the strategy recently revealed in an interview Walt Bettinger, CEO of the Charles Schwab Corporation, gave The New York Times.

When considering a new candidate, the brokering and banking exec explains, it’s all about character.

pancakesAnd that’s why, in some instances, Bettinger invites his candidates for breakfast and elects to hold his employment interviews at a restaurant. Then he gets to the place a little bit earlier and brokers an arrangement with the serving staff so that his dining partner’s meal comes out wrong.

“I want you to mess up the order of the person who’s going to be joining me,” he’ll tell the restaurant manager. “It’ll be OK, and I’ll give a good tip—but mess up their order.”

The objective of the ruse? To see how the person he’s considering for a job that necessarily contains a lot of adversity will behave in such conditions.

“Are they upset, are they frustrated or are they understanding?” he pondered with journalist Adam Bryant. “Life is like that and business is like that.  It’s just another way to get a look inside their heart rather than their head.

“We’re all going to make mistakes. The question is how are we going to recover when we make them, and are we going to be respectful to others when they make them?”

Indeed. And pass the syrup.

Addressing Mental Illness at Work

Everyone saw the explosion of commercials for Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign last month, and the efforts behind it are unquestionably commendable. But for all the attention paid to the subject of mental illness, it might still not feel like enough for a suffering employee wrestling with whether to tell her boss about her condition.


One in five Canadians will experience mental illness at some point in their lives. Given that we spend a quarter of our adult existence in the workplace, the employment connection is unavoidable. Indeed, mental illness causes more lost work days than any other chronic condition (82% of long-term disability claims in Canada are related to it), and costs the Canadian economy some $51 billion annually in lost productivity.

Some other stats on depression and the workplace, courtesy of Statistics Canada:

  • employees who consider most of their days to be quite a bit or extremely stressful are over three times more likely to suffer a major depressive episode than those who report low levels of general stress;
  • Canadians with depression report that they function at just 62% of their capacity on the job;
  • 70% of Canadians have had to leave their work for short-term or long-term disability, or permanently.

On the employer side, there’s some expectation and precedent. Employers have a moral duty to support the needs of their staff and so are charged with meeting a raft of obligations to promote mental wellness and safety in the workplace.

But for the folks on the other end of the equation, the protocol isn’t so clear.

Certainly the Supreme Court of Canada says employees are as obligated as their employers to accommodate their own mental health conditions in the workplace. This means coming clean with their superiors (“preferably in writing,” says a recently convened Ontario Human Rights Tribunal) about any conditions that might affect their judgment or ability to perform their job.

Letting your superiors know you’re suffering might seem daunting, particularly given the residual stigma that sticks to this subject, but doing so can deliver relief to feelings of isolation and possibly redirect assumptions about why someone isn’t being productive.

Some tips on seeing it through:

  • Book a meeting with your supervisor in a quiet place.
  • Bring along a doctor’s note, especially if you’re requesting on-the-job accommodations.
  • Be clear about what you need, and offer some practical suggestions for seeing it through.
  • Use language like “disorder,” “medical condition” or “mental illness” rather than “problem” or “issue.”
  • Check in with your EAP or HR department beforehand, in case you find you need their support.

And for the 78% of Canadians worried they’ll lose their job if they reveal their mental illness, well, that’s illegal. With the exception of certain safety-sensitive industries, Canadian employers are not allowed to discipline, demote, dismiss or otherwise discriminate against employees with illnesses or disabilities, and they must attempt to accommodate them instead.

The Future of Jobs is Here. Like, Now.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has just released its Future of Jobs report — and there’s lots of juicy stuff about those technological and sociological drivers poised to reshape the world’s employment scene between the covers.


Among the document’s most noteworthy revelations? That we’ve entered the age of the “fourth industrial revolution.” While it’s all good for participants in science, tech, engineering and math (including folks working in 3D printing, genetics and biotech, AI, machine learning and nanotech) it’s not so revolutionary for employees whose white-collar and clerical jobs are predicted to be on the serious decline, including women.

Because as much as the report — which surveyed senior execs and chief HR officers in 15 major developed and emerging economies about how jobs in their industries will have changed by 2020— celebrates technological innovation’s increasing part in worldwide employment, it also highlights worrying concern around job shrinkage in those industries predicted to be on the brink of large-scale freefall.

Report highlights include:

  • Swift economic upheaval will put an unprecedented stress on a transitioning labour force, and the result could be a net employment loss of more than 5.1 million jobs in 15 major developed and emerging economies by 2020.
  • Sixty-five percent of children entering primary school today will end up working in jobs that don’t even exist right now.
  • Two-thirds of the jobs anticipated to be lost due to these looming disruptive labour market changes are concentrated in the routine white-collar-office space.
  • The computer, mathematical, architectural and engineering-related fields are predicted to gain two million jobs by 2020.
  • Data analysts and specialized sales representatives will be much in demand.
  • By 2020, more than a third of the desired core skillsets of most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today.
  • Business leaders are aware of these looming challenges, but have been slow to act decisively.
  • During previous industrial revolutions, it often took decades to build the training systems and labour market institutions required to develop major new skillsets on a large scale. The expected pace of this upcoming revolution eliminates this as an option.
  • There needs to be an immediate reinvention of the HR function, such that it enjoys a bigger strategic role in a corporation’s overall gameplay than ever.
  • Businesses and governments need to cultivate a new approach to workforce planning and talent management, central to which has to be better forecasting data and planning metrics.
  • The highly siloed training provided by most existing education systems is increasingly outdated.

In such a rapidly evolving employment landscape, the WEF report sums up, the ability for businesses, governments and individuals to anticipate and prepare for future skills requirements, job content and the aggregate effect on employment is increasingly critical. Otherwise, our ability to fully seize the opportunities presented by these trends — and to mitigate undesirable outcomes — is unlikely.

Tech Companies Not as Diverse as They Think

Under the radar last week, Apple quietly published an account of its employment diversity record through August 1, 2015. And while the data offer evidence of some progress in the corporate behemoth’s hiring practices, the company isn’t performing at nearly the level its CEO Tim Cook declared it to be taking last year, when he breathlessly announced all kinds of diversity-designed personnel agendas.


While Apple doesn’t account for the disparity in the number of visible minorities apparently hired last year and the reality released today, the scene is revealing for what it has to say about the current state of diversity hiring on the tech landscape.

The diversity push

 Like its contemporaries, Apple is being impelled to create a more racially diverse workplace and so is spending money and time developing policies, mission statements and recruitment materials that make pronouncements about its commitment to the stuff.

But the effectiveness of this push is questionable. A recently published longitudinal study of more than 700 American organizations found that diversity training programs actually have little positive effect and may even decrease a company’s representation of black women.

Stock photo diversity

Still, well-meaning tech companies remain keen to represent themselves to the world as a colourful, forward-thinking, inclusive lot. Check out any corporate career page and you’ll be overwhelmed by smiling photos of truly diverse workforces, everyone cleanly represented in accordance with their representation in the general population.

But look a little closer and you’ll notice that some of these diverse folks are duplicated across multiple career pages, whence corporate recruiters have lifted them to play roles in depictions of their staff pool.

How to be

 So what’s a manager to do? First, they should endeavour not to distort the reality of their level of corporate diversity. Certainly if they’re a genuinely sundried crowd they should let the world know as much. But misrepresentation doesn’t look good on anybody.

Second, they should appreciate the tricky lots of their own recruitment teams. These are the folks, after all, charged with finding employees from a diverse pot of potentials who must struggle with “you’ll-fit-right-in-here” enticements that are in fact dubious reflections of their companies’ realities.

Outsourcing Payroll: Why You Should Be

There’s no shortage of noise out there decrying the hassle and confusion around tackling corporate payroll responsibilities internally.

Much better, go the conclusions upon which the puzzlers ultimately land, to farm the stuff out to an organization for whom it’s neither a hassle nor confusion.


Here are five reasons why:

1.  Peace of mind. A whack of regularly updating regulatory demands for which professional organizations are responsible — from direct deposits and pay stubs to T4s, ROEs, employee deductions and government remittances — can prove troubling for small business owners who’ve already got enough on their plates.

2.  Expertise. Whether a company works with temporary employees or independent contractors, and rapidly changing work conditions notwithstanding, a professional payroll service provider who’s been around the register a few times is eminently more knowledgeable about tackling these tasks than a dabbler.

3.  Time savings. Choosing to work with an outside service provider frees up your inside industry.

4.  Cost savings. Processing a payroll sheet, particularly for a larger company, can be a massive undertaking that requires the participation of many hands. Getting an outsider to do it not only frees up those hands, but the wages associated with them.

5.  Technology currency. Staying abreast of business process software and technology can be a significant challenge for many small and mid-sized companies. Outsourcing payroll services to a contracted practitioner puts the techno-onus on them.

The changing nature of business coupled with the unchanging need to remain competitive elevates the advantages of outsourcing payroll to extremely attractive levels. Add to those cost savings, reliability, expertise and flat-out convenience, and the benefits of having someone else undertake your payroll burdens are flat-out.

Out with the Old

The latest monthly account of staffing activity in this country shows a continued decline.

The Canadian Staffing Index recorded a reading of 108 in November. That this is lower than the 111 reading achieved in November 2014 (even in spite of this November having one more working day in it than last) perpetuates a trend of moderate year-over-year declines in hours billed across this year.

And with this moderately bleak bit of staffing news, we bid farewell to the last 12 months.

champagne toast

It was not a standout year on the employment front, by any stretch. The dollar tanked and, in commodity-producing provinces, resource extraction staffing took an ugly hit.

In October, Stats Can reported that the overall employment number eclipsed 18 million for the first time (though it’s since risen above that record low).

And the drop in oil prices was felt across a whack of different geographies and industries in 2015, and lots of us suffered in lots of ways.

But, well, that was yesterday. Today, the holidays are afoot and goodwill abounds. Best to jam all the dubious reports of the last year into a shoebox and bury it in the softest patch of earth you can find in the yard.

And then to return the shovel to the garage and pour yourself a cup of something seasonal. We here at Keen Consulting have filled our glasses, too, and are raising them in the air in a toast along with you.

Onwards and upwards, then. Cin cin and cheers. Have a great holiday with your besties. And we’ll see you in the blank-slate gloriousness of the new year.

Talent Recruitment and Management in 2016

Here’s a prediction for the second half of the month of December: that the world will be papered in predictions.

Done, courtesy (in this instance) of global human resource and organizational advisory firm Korn Ferry. Its Futurestep division, aided by two dozen participating global experts on the stuff have just published their forecasts for the talent acquisition and management scene in 2016.

trendsHere’s what their sooth says:

  • Candidates will call the shots: by 2025, the ratio of workers to retirees will be about equal, making the candidate pool small; the call for specialized workers will get louder.
  • Investment hiring will edge out competition: companies will hire for personalities and corporate fit first, and train for skills second.
  • Smart data will source and develop talent: big-data talent metrics are standard issue HR tools now, with many companies hiring full-time analysts to study competitor talent pools and staffer ROI.
  • Streamlined HR technologies will enable centralized global recruitment: previously siloed corporate functions will acknowledge their shared interests and everyone will benefit.
  • The “candidate concierge” phenomenon will grow: companies will up the experience for would-be employees in swelling recognition of the value they might deliver.
  • Internal talent harvesting will grow: shorter ascents to productivity and lower staffing costs will push hiring from within into the spotlight.
  • Graduate recruiting will get fresh focus: companies will increasingly celebrate a whack of upsides associated with onboarding newly minted grads.
  • Embracing diversity will prove critical to growth: new data regularly endorse why diversity positively impacts business performance.

Told you so.

National Hiring Portal for Homeless Youth Turns Problem into Possibility

There’s nothing like a bout of homelessness to dash a person’s expectations of, and chances for, viable employment. A new web-based social enterprise is seeking to address that black mark, though, with a Canada-wide program aimed at linking employers and willing would-be employees.


How it works

HireUp is a youth-hiring initiative that will operate like Workopolis does, with companies uploading in-house opportunities and youth-serving social agencies responding to them with candidates’ resumes. While most of the individuals are homeless and have yet to amass any formal work experience, they make up for this deficiency with enthusiasm for meaningful employment.

Currently, the site features some 180 full-time, and a slew of part-time, positions, on offer with companies such as Home Depot Canada, NEI Investments and Nordstrom.

The nominal fee employers pony up for their participation is reinvested in programs dedicated to improving conditions for homeless youth by way of the 18 social agencies involved in the project.

The scene by the numbers

Canada’s national youth unemployment rate was at 13.5% in October, almost double that of the general population (7.1%). Anywhere from 35,000 to 65,000 youth experience homelessness in Canada each year.

The first program of its kind in this country, HireUp is organized by corporate social responsibility consultancy Impakt. This Toronto-based organization launched the website with the collaboration of Workopolis and the Home Depot Canada Foundation.

HireUp is unique for the way it facilitates a corporation’s involvement in alleviating youth homelessness while simultaneously addressing its own personnel gaps.

Win and win.

Employer Portal Seeks to Streamline Foreign Workers’ Hiring

Citizenship and Immigration (CIC) Canada has launched a new online system, the Employer Portal, to oversee the processing of employment offers Canadian employers make to foreign workers through the International Mobility Program (IMB).

The IMB distinction is critical. Employers who extend employment offers to individuals via IMB are exempt from having to secure proof — in the form of a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) — that the offer will visit a positive or neutral impact on the Canadian labour market. (Jobs that require an LMIA are filed under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, another stream that doesn’t intersect with the IMP.)

workers5Once an employer has established electronic login credentials with the portal and launched the submission of an offer of employment, the site will walk him through a stream of questions to determine various details of the transaction. It will inquire about the company’s size, type, age and principal activities. And it will ask questions about the job on offer, including the duties expected of the foreign national in question, the minimum experiential and educational requirements of the role, and the wage and benefits on the table.

Once the employer has completed these sections and paid a compliance fee ($230), it awaits the CIC’s confirmation of the application’s receipt. This can range in duration from instantaneous to several days. At this point, the business is assigned a file number that the foreign worker then references in his application for a temporary work permit. (The application through the Employer Portal must be submitted prior to submitting the work permit application.)

The introduction of the Employer Portal is one component of a large-scale movement to shift Canada’s immigration application processes into the digital world. Critics argue that, while the intention is sound and the data-collection efforts will no doubt improve as a result, the development actually introduces fresh complications for employers looking to hire foreign nationals on a temporary basis in Canada. The portal was unveiled with minimal guidance and therefore throws wide the possibility of procedural and technical snafus as newbies work to navigate the site.