New Statistics Canada data confirm job vacancies remain stubbornly high despite persistent unemployment levels. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) released a report that indicates what is on the minds of small business owners when they look to hire.

The results show that overall small businesses love their current workforce but struggle to find new candidates of the same quality and work ethic.

Sixty-five per cent of small business owners surveyed said employees are the most important element to the success of their firm, more important than even their product or service. However, nearly three-quarters say the work ethic of new hires has deteriorated in recent years, and more than two-thirds say the quality of applicants has declined.

“Canada’s small businesses will be the first to tell you that their employees are their greatest strength,” said Dan Kelly, president of CFIB. “But they are finding it increasingly difficult to find qualified applicants, especially workers prepared to consider entry- level jobs.”

While 90 per cent of small businesses say they can count on existing employees to get the job done, many employers report challenges when it comes to hiring new employees. The biggest barrier to hiring was a lack of qualified applicants (88 per cent). Half of small employers said wage expectations were too high and one-quarter reported that candidates did not even show up for scheduled interviews.

The survey results provide insight on behaviours from the perspective of a small business owner: on the positive side, 81 per cent said they’ve observed employees going the extra mile for a customer; on the negative, 61 per cent said employees spend too much time on personal phone calls, emails and texting during work hours. Small business owners listed other drags on productivity, including gossiping (55 per cent), personal web surfing while at work (41 per cent) and excessive lateness (40 per cent).