April 2021 Labour Force Update

Addressing the Skilled Labour Shortage in Canada

Employing skilled immigrants could greatly reduce strain on Canada's labour shortage
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On the heels of a promising recovery, the labour force in Canada struggled in April, posting losses exceeding forecasts. For the month of April 2021, Statcan reported a decrease in employment of -1.1% for a total of 18,627,000. This loss brings the unemployment rate up by 0.6% to a total of 8.1%. This decrease was brought about by Canada’s third wave of COVID-19 and restrictions put in place to stop the spread. Experts anticipated a decrease of 160.5k; the losses were worse, totalling 207.1k.¹

Of April’s numbers, full time employment saw losses of -0.8% (-129,000). Part-time employment was more severely impacted, posting losses of -2.3% (-78,000). These losses reflect the continued struggle of retail and hospitality sectors, and this trajectory continues to disproportionately impact young workers, women, and people of colour.¹

April 2021 Employment Numbers by Region

As parts of Canada grapple with COVID-19 surges, employment trends are difficult to predict. For the month of April, employment losses were felt unequally across the nation.¹

More specifically, Ontario and British Columbia posted the greatest losses. In Ontario, employment fell by 153,000 (-2.1%). In British Columbia, losses totalled 43,000 (-1.6%). This decrease is the first since substantial employment losses in March and April 2020. ¹

Conversely, little change was felt in other provinces, with Saskatchewan and New Brunswick actually posting increases of 9,500 (+1.7%) and +4,100 (+1.1%) respectively. While Ontarian and British Columbian employment numbers continue to fluctuate, it’s encouraging to see growth and stasis in other parts of the country.¹

“It’s encouraging to see growth in some regions despite the hand many provinces have been dealt,” says Henry Goldbeck, President of Goldbeck Recruiting. “We’re finding that for many businesses, this pandemic has spelled disruption, not destruction. The fight isn’t over yet, but many new placement inquiries at Goldbeck signal intent to grow, Canada-wide.”²

April 2021 Employment Numbers by Sector

The industries most reflective of April’s losses are those impacted by COVID-19 restrictions. In British Columbia, these restrictions included a recent “circuit breaker” effort meant to curb rapidly increasing case counts. These losses were acute in sectors including retail trade (-84,000), accommodation and food services (-59,000), and information, culture and recreation (-26,000), and in Ontarian educational services (-36,000).

Certain workhorse sectors that rallied through much of 2020 continue to hold fast. Among these, forestry and related activities reflect a moderate surge, up to 52.1k from 40.9k in March.¹ ³

IndustryApril 2021 Jobs ChangeMarch Change
Natural Resources ( Forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction)+2.2+7.0
Transportation & Warehousing-6.6-7.3
Finance & Insurance+4.1+1.1
Wholesale & Retail Trade-69.5+91.8
Professional, Scientific and Support Services+22.7+5.9
Information, Culture and Recreation-24.9+11.3
Accommodation & Food Services-48.6+21.4
Business, Building & Other Support Services+3.3+11.3
Figures displayed are Canada-wide and x 1000

Evincing the fabled K-shaped recovery, the sector including finance, real estate, and leasing continues to grow after only a slight dip in February 2021. In April, this sector posted growth to 1,291.9k from 1,270.9k in March.¹ ³ It is likely that this sector will continue to grow as low interest rates create pressure in real estate countrywide.

This sentiment is echoed by Central 1 Chief Economist Bryan Yu. “Average prices are forecast to rise 10 per cent this year with a moderating growth trend thereafter,” Yu told the Journal of Commerce, indicating the implications of low borrowing costs and the viability of long-term work from home setups.⁴

In kind, the construction industry continues to rebound after a slowdown around Christmas. With demand in real estate growing, construction projects will continue to ramp up over the coming months. In April 2021, the sector posted gains to 1,384.6k, up from 1,353.9k in March.¹ ³

The growth in this sector has been a positive, if challenging, trend for Danielle Macey, Partner at Vibra-Sonic Control. “At this point, many residential builds are still moving ahead,” says Macey. “Because we are required to visit job sites, a big challenge for us continues to be developing and enforcing safety protocols that make our staff and clients feel comfortable.”

“We are growing at a rapid pace, hiring at essentially all levels and across the country,” says Julie Wong, HR Director at CanWel Building Materials. “In 2020, people invested in their homes instead of on vacations. We’re actually needing to bring on another in-house recruiter shortly.”⁵

These sectors, deeply interconnected, are poised to grow as the vaccine rollout continues. As such, demand for skilled workers will increase. In some cases, this will place further pressure on protracted skilled labour shortages in the primary industries of resource extraction and refinement like forestry.

Skilled Labour Shortages Persist

From rural industry roles to urban C-suite titles, a shortage of talent in Canada continues to reflect the lasting impacts of COVID-19. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that this trend will change anytime soon.

“Skilled labourers, like millwrights for example,” says Goldbeck, “have been in high demand for years, at this point. Despite demand, we’ve seen little uptick in supply. This is partially because there are few incentives valuable enough to see folks train up and move to often isolated areas for work. The one big selling point was the availability of affordable local housing.”²

“This isn’t the case anymore. People are moving into the suburbs and driving housing prices up. This makes moving to mill sites even less attractive to potential candidates,” says Goldbeck.[2] With fewer than 40,000 new housing starts predicted annually until 2023, according to Yu, this remarkable perk for those willing to move to small communities for work may be dwindling away.⁴

For Macey, sourcing talent has been a complex task. “Finding technical sales staff that can flesh out their product knowledge with engineering experience is incredibly difficult but completely necessary for our clients,” Macey says. “Our work is quite niche, which also means we can’t really recruit from competitors.”⁶

“Our biggest challenge is locating qualified applicants,” says Wong. “There are not enough of them.”⁵

“Many companies are very reticent to hire international candidates. But completing a Labour Market Impact Assessment is a worthwhile investment of time and attention,” says Goldbeck. “With this sustained shortage in Canada in so many high earning industries, I think it would suit many of our clients well to look outside Canadian borders.”²

“But until there are greater incentives to get workers into these positions with high demand, or until the government creates a simpler path for immigration,” says Goldbeck, “these challenges will remain a serious obstacle to recruitment in Canada.”²

1 Government of Canada, Statistics Canada. “The Daily — Labour Force Survey, April 2021,” May 7, 2021. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/210507/dq210507a-eng.htm.
2 Personal communication between Rose Agency and Henry Goldbeck, April 2021.
3 Government of Canada, Statistics Canada. “Simple View.” Accessed May 7, 2021. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action.
4 Journal Of Commerce. “B.C. on Track for Economic Growth: Central 1 – Constructconnect.Com,” March 2, 2021. https://canada.constructconnect.com/joc/news/economic/2021/03/b-c-on-track-for-economic-growth-central-1.
5 Personal communication between Rose Agency and Julie Wong, April 2021.
6 Personal communication between Rose Agency and Danielle Macey, April 2021.