Canada added 337,000 jobs in February (+1.8%) according to numbers released on March 11 by Statistics Canada1. The unemployment rate dipped by a full percentage point to 5.5%, below February 2020’s pre-pandemic level of 5.7%, and within a tenth of a percentage point of the all time low of 5.4% observed in May of 2019.
The employment gains more than offset the dip experienced in January, as the reference week (February 13 to 19) came after many Omicron-related public health restrictions had been eased.
All indicators show a tight labour market, with total hours worked climbing 3.6% over January, exceeding pre-pandemic levels for the first time.
Survey by Region
New Brunswick and Alberta job totals held steady for the month, with all other provinces seeing growth. A pair of Atlantic provinces led the way, with Newfoundland seeing a 4.3% gain in job totals and Prince Edward Island adding 4.1%.
Survey by Sector
The easing of public health restrictions undoubtedly played a role in three sectors that experienced strong rebounds. These include accommodations and food service (+114,000), information, culture, and recreation (+73,000), and retail (+21,000). The goods producing sector also added 44,000 jobs, with construction leading the way in this category.
Employment Rate High Across Various Demographical Categories
The employment rate for the core working-age population (25 to 54 years) was 84.6% in February. The rate for core-aged men was 88.2%, the highest level since November of 1981. The employment rate for core-aged women reached an all-time high of 81%.
Core-aged Indigenous men experienced an employment rate of 78.6% (+5.2%) in February, while core-aged Indigenous women saw a rate of 74.5% (+3.7%). Both represent record highs. Employment data for Indigenous people reflects the experiences of those who identify as First Nations people living off reserve, Métis, and Inuit, living in the provinces.
A pair of other numbers indicate that the economy is recovering from the impact of the pandemic. After reaching a record high of 10% a month earlier, the proportion of employees absent from work due to illness or disability fell to 6.2% during the reference week.
At the same time only 37.2% of those employed during the month worked most of their hours from home (-5.8%), while 53.8% worked all of their hours at locations other than home (+4.0%).
|February 2022 Change
|January 2022 Change
|Natural Resources ( Forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction)
|Transportation & Warehousing
|Finance & Insurance
|Wholesale & Retail Trade
|Professional, Scientific and Technical Services
|Information, Culture and Recreation
|Accommodation & Food Services
|Business, Building & Other Support Services
Strong Counter-Offers and Minimal Layoffs
Despite the strong position held by employees in the current marketplace, Statistics Canada has reported a relatively standard number of workers changing positions in recent months. Goldbeck Recruiting President Henry Goldbeck attributes this to low unemployment and strong retention efforts.
“The number of people on the move is probably depressed because there isn’t a lot of unemployment at the mid to senior levels, so people aren’t changing jobs because of layoffs,” says Goldbeck. “Employers are very aware of how tight the job market is and, as a result, we’re seeing more counter offers than ever before.” Goldbeck notes that the trend applies across the recruiting industry in North America and Canada.
Employees Seizing Opportunity
“If you’re looking to change industries or professions, now would be a historically good time to do that,” advises Goldbeck.
In a tight employee market employers are widening their scope and often being rewarded for it.
“Employers are finding it difficult to find candidates with specific industry or niche or functional skills, so they’re more likely to look outside the box at candidates with transferable skills,” explains Goldbeck. “Many will find really high performers who will have a learning curve, but will ultimately excel. If you’re a really competent contributor, but haven’t been given an opportunity in management yet, now would be the time to take on more responsibility, and seize opportunities that are over and above salary increases.”
Remote Placements in Managerial Roles
While the pandemic remains an ongoing concern, companies are looking to the future. That future, however, will incorporate lessons and trends from the past two years. One such development is the remote or hybrid work model.
“We’ve made a senior management placement where the candidate is going to remain living in Victoria, but will spend two weeks a month in Prince George,” says Goldbeck, noting the increasing willingness of companies to consider such an option. “There are pockets of resistance that don’t want to entertain a hybrid work force,” he says, “but more and more companies are open to it.”
Goldbeck explains that remote hires are more prevalent amongst companies in rural areas than those in major urban centres.
The Prospects of a Four-Day Workweek
The prospect of a four-day workweek is both elusive and omnipresent. Belgium recently introduced labour reform allowing employees to choose such a schedule, while in North America several forward-leaning tech companies have moved in this direction as well. Despite its broad appeal, Goldbeck doesn’t foresee broad adoption in Canada’s near future.
“I think Canada is sort of riding two horses,” says Goldbeck. “I think culturally we’re more aligned with Western Europe in that we’d prefer a strong social safety net and more socially progressive economic measures, but our proximity to the US, and need to compete with the US makes it really difficult to enact some of these more progressive measures. I can’t see anything like the four-day work week being mandated.”
Long Term Economic Impacts of Blockades
Bridge blockades temporarily clogged Canadian-US trade, leading to some fear that Canada may lose our reputation as a reliable economic partner. Goldbeck believes that this sentiment will fade with time.
“There will be voices on the American side that will use this as a rallying call, but these are the same voices who have already been trying to bring that business south of the border,” says Goldbeck. “ln the overall scheme of things, it was decisively and peaceably handled. If this is a one-off thing, I don’t see it being a long-term issue.”