August 2021 Labour Force Update

As summer comes to a close, Canada posted job numbers fit for an optimistic fall. The nation added 90,000 jobs (+0.5%) in August, the third consecutive monthly increase. This brings Canada’s jobs total up to 18,974k—within 156,000 (-0.8%) of pre-pandemic levels. Accordingly, the unemployment rate fell by -0.4% to 7.1%. These numbers outperformed forecasts by a little over 20,000 jobs.1

These numbers represent a welcome dose of encouragement to a nation again facing rolling COVID-19 restrictions as the Delta variant rages. It’s possible that these restrictions will be felt in the job market over the coming months.

Breaking the numbers down, full-time work saw the greatest improvement adding 69,000 jobs (+0.4%). These gains were driven by increases in services-producing industries, led by food services and accommodation. Self employment, meanwhile, saw little change; August is the fifth consecutive month with nearly no growth in self employment.1

These numbers belie the competitive nature of the employment market at present. Businesses are hiring, but candidates remain apprehensive in the face of new opportunities.

“We’re experiencing a candidate-driven market at this point,” says Henry Goldbeck, President of Goldbeck Recruiting. “Companies are hiring based on the assumption that a post-pandemic world is near; but we’re not yet seeing the full weight of the pent-up market evident in candidate movement.”2

Labour Force Survey by Region

Only four provinces—Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia—posted marked gains in August. For the third consecutive month, British Columbia remained the only province posting employment numbers above pre-pandemic levels. In comparing against February 2020 levels, the east coast was lagging the most: “the employment gap was largest in Prince Edward Island (-3.4%) and New Brunswick (-2.7%).”1

Ontario posted an increase of 53,000 in August, the third month in a row to show a positive trajectory. These gains were mostly part-time, however, mostly in the accommodation and food services industry. There was also notable increases in educational services, and information, culture and recreation. 1

Alberta posted gains of 20,000 (+0.9%) in August, the first notable increase since March 2021. This increase was felt most in logistics and manufacturing spheres, led by transportation and warehousing; information, culture and recreation, and lastly accommodation and food services. Saskatchewan also posted gains after sustaining losses in June and July, observing modest increases in wholesale and retail trade.1

Lastly, Canada’s employment rate (61.0%) remains higher than that of the United States (58.5%). Adjusted to US concepts, Canada’s rate is only -1.2% lower than pre-pandemic levels.1

Labour Force Survey by Sector

IndustryAugust 2021 Jobs ChangeJuly Change
Natural Resources ( Forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction)-1.61.3
Transportation & Warehousing0.610.6
Finance & Insurance-1.314.8
Wholesale & Retail Trade0.613.0
Professional, Scientific and Support Services0.95.0
Information, Culture and Recreation3.43.2
Accommodation & Food Services7.535.2
Business, Building & Other Support Services-2.36.5
Figures displayed are Canada-wide and x 1000

Gains in August were driven primarily by increases in accommodation and food services (+7.5%) as the industry recovered from the most recent wave of COVID-19 restrictions. This recovery has far reaching positive impacts on vulnerable groups traditionally employed in these fields, including youth and people belonging to visible minority categories.1

Similarly, gains in information, culture, and recreation are cause for celebration, as employment in these categories can be considered to represent the health of quaternary segments of the economy. This increase (+3.4%) also reflects economic recovery reaching groups less typically employed in pandemic-hardy sectors like manufacturing. 1

Notable were losses in natural resource related sectors, which posted a total decrease of -1.6%. Following months of high prices in lumber and other resources, market corrections (and August holidays) could be considered to be enacting a predictable trend which should stabilize in the coming months.1

Candidate Shortages Drive Market Imbalance 

Since Canada’s economic gears slouched back to life after the initial shutdown, companies have fought to return to pre-pandemic speed. Slowly, things fell into place: supply chain kinks smoothed out, workforce logistics became more manageable, and vaccine distribution gave hope for the future.

But there’s one challenge that no one expected and which is proving to be the monkey wrench tossed into the machine: a shortage of qualified, skilled candidates. This crush is felt especially at specialized, C-suite levels in succession planning, where the candidate pool was already small.

“During the pandemic, highly skilled candidates were very reticent to give up a secure position for a new opportunity. We anticipated that when the economy opened up, we’d see a storm of movement,” says Goldbeck. “We saw inklings of this over the last several months, but ultimately candidates are still nervous. Meanwhile, companies cannot hire fast enough.”2

“I think the pandemic has made people reevaluate their lives and work,” says Luana Fong, HR Manager at Hillcore Financial. “Businesses should anticipate some workforce restructuring in the coming months, and should be aware that succession planning could be a challenge.”3

This is a difficult time for many companies who may have felt they’ve had the pick of the lot for the last several years. Now, instead of candidates vying for a position, companies are facing off to win the attention of high quality candidates.

“The market is very competitive,” says Goldbeck. “We’re telling our clients to prepare higher offers with greater flexibility, and to move quickly so as not to miss out on great candidates.”2

There’s one way to circumvent the challenges of a scarce candidate market: promote internally. When it comes to succession planning, current employees may be your best asset. 

“Generally, when we’re succession planning for a new company, we prefer to keep current employees in key positions,” says Luana. “They have the knowledge, and they have that history with the company that makes them very valuable. It’s often simpler for everyone that way.”3

When it comes to retaining that talent for the purposes of succession planning, it’s critical to foster feelings of loyalty and commitment amongst employees.

“Most of our employees are long-term, which means they’re very engaged with the company,” says Luana. “It’s critical to us that we’re letting our employees take the lead and let us know what they need. We want our staff to feel respected; this way, we retain more people and keep them happy as well.”3

Paving the Way for Green Jobs

As the world weighs its options in responding to the climate crisis, the question of jobs—and if we could “green” them—is central.

Especially in Canada’s interior provinces, the oil and gas industry provides gainful employment for thousands of committed skilled workers. If Canada transitions away from oil and gas product manufacturing, what will happen to those employees?

“Depending on how quickly the oil and gas industry declines,” says Goldbeck, “it may be very challenging to find a new balance.”2

“The move to green energy will create jobs, but we won’t know for decades, really, if that type of work will itself be sustainable in the long term from an economic standpoint,” adds Goldbeck. “There will need to be proof that green energy can self-support as an industry before real rapid job growth and candidate confidence will ramp up.”2

And then, of course, is the question of interest. Will candidates even want to consider “green” jobs? The fact of the climate crisis doesn’t waver, but oil and gas boasts hosts of loyalists.

“Increasingly—especially in this market—we have seen candidates following their passions and moral alignments,” says Goldbeck. “More than any other industry, green manufacturing and energy jobs can draw a lot of interest. But that isn’t the case for everyone.”2

We need look no further than Cold Lake, Alberta, where over 2,000 of the town’s 15,000 residents are employed by the nearby oilsands. A decline in the industry could be devastating for the town’s economy.4 

Last week, the federal Liberals released the details of their multibillion-dollar election platform for post-pandemic recovery. Included in this package are funds intended to transition Canada to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050—and more specifically, a $2B “Future Fund” designed to help re-skill workers that will be displaced by a declining oil and gas industry.5 

But the Mayor of Cold Lake, Craig Copeland, isn’t optimistic. According to Airdrie Today and CTV News Calgary, Copeland doesn’t believe people want to switch jobs.4, 6 

“We already have a huge industry that generates enormous wealth for people,” Copeland said, adding “until you find a way to replace that, people won’t even look at retraining.” Airdrie Today writes Copeland called the transition plan a “‘made-in-Ottawa’ solution not grounded in reality.”4

“We’ll be walking a fine balance over the next two decades,” says Goldbeck. “People in regions that rely on this industry will probably be resistant to change. But whether that’s ultimately relevant in the fight against climate change is another question. The job market will have to respond to Canada’s needs.”2

1 Government of Canada, Statistics Canada. “The Daily — Labour Force Survey, August 2021,” September 10, 2021.
2 Personal communication between Rose Agency and Henry Goldbeck, August 2021.
3 Personal communication between Rose Agency and Luana Fong, August 2021.
4 “Beyond Local: Liberals Pledge $2B to Help ‘transition’ Oil Workers; Alberta Communities Lukewarm.” Accessed September 3, 2021.
5 News, John Paul Tasker · CBC. “Liberal Party Releases Multibillion-Dollar Election Platform for Post-Pandemic Recovery | CBC News.” CBC. Accessed September 3, 2021.
6 Calgary. “Liberals Pledge $2B to Help ‘transition’ Oilpatch Workers,” September 1, 2021.