The Future of HR
For the month of March, Statcan has reported an increase in the labour force by 1.6% (303.1k) to a total of 18,834,000. Accordingly, the unemployment rate fell by -0.7% to 7.5% nationally. This report comes after a remarkably volatile winter, as January observed huge losses and February, huge gains. Looking forward, it seems stability and a certain path out of the pandemic may be on the horizon, though rising cases on both East and West coasts remain cause for concern.
The makeup of March’s employment increase is composed of substantial change in part time work (+3.9%) and more limited change in full time work (+1.2%). As is expected, the sectors and types of employment most impacted by COVID-19 restrictions remain the most volatile. These include part time work, especially in retail and hospitality.
The sectors which remain most precarious are also those which mostly employ women, young people, and people of colour. Going forward, it’s plausible that the unequal repercussions of Canada’s K-Shaped recovery will be felt for years to come.
Survey: March’s Gains and Losses
In March, Canada was forecast to have added only 101.5k jobs, a far cry from the 303.1k actual. For the first time in several months, these increases were felt consistently across the country, with seven provinces posting increases. These are Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia. Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan showed little change from February.
|Industry||March 2020 Jobs Change||February Change|
|Natural Resources ( Forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction)||+7.0||-3.3|
|Transportation & Warehousing||-7.3||+8.3|
|Finance & Insurance||+1.1||-14.7|
|Wholesale & Retail Trade||+91.8||+117.8|
|Professional, Scientific and Support Services||+5.9||+6.8|
|Information, culture and recreation||+11.3||+7.7|
|Accommodation & Food Services||+21.4||+64.6|
|Business, Building & Other Support Services||+11.3||+13.9|
Notably, British Columbia looks towards an uncertain future as new COVID-19 cases continue to rise, breaking records almost daily. With the de facto closure of Whistler Village and other popular ski destinations, retail and hospitality will likely reflect a greater loss in months to come.
In other sectors across the country, natural resources and their corollary industries continue to fare well, as COVID-19 remains their largest adversary. Gains in the natural resources industry were driven by British Columbia, which posted an increase of +5.9%, and Alberta, which posted an increase of +2.2%. Similarly, construction continues to heat with the economy as large infrastructure projects are already underway and low interest rates continue to drive consumer demand for real estate. In the goods-producing sector, construction added 26,000 jobs.
Canada also saw notable increases in healthcare and social assistance, adding 47,000 jobs in Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia. Educational services also posted an increase of 35,000 jobs (+1.6%), mostly in Ontario and Alberta. Compared with 2020, educational services employment is currently up +6.2% year over year. 
Further, the Work From Home (WFH) wave may finally be subsiding, as 200,000 fewer Canadians worked from home in March. The desire to get employees back to the office paired with the persistence of COVID-19 variants has leadership considering the realities of a protracted recovery.
As such, companies are embracing secure but flexible work like never before.
“We’ve been running a hybrid model for the last year,” says Andrew Taylor, CEO of Magnum Trailers. “Our employees, some of whom have been with us for decades, are missing the office. But for the most part, remote work has seen lots of success.”
“This is very encouraging for us as we look to onboard younger talent,” says Taylor. “We’ve viewed this pandemic as an opportunity to shake things up and find new ways to advance the business. It’s anticipated that under ten percent of businesses will emerge from the pandemic in a better position than before; in embracing this new ways of working, we’re working hard to be one of those businesses.”
Spotlight: Healthcare Labour Shortage
Canada has been facing a serious healthcare labour shortage for a number of years. Nurses and family doctors were desperately needed before the onslaught of COVID-19 cases began to fill hospitals in early 2020. Now, the crisis has only become more acute.
“Unfortunately, this labour shortage is not one I see resolving any time soon,” says Henry Goldbeck, CEO of Goldbeck Recruiting Inc. “The COVID crisis has placed immense pressure on our healthcare workers. Many of those workers are feeling that these conditions are unsustainable.”
This burnout could actually cause the shortage to worsen further. “It’s likely that after the worst of the pandemic subsides, we’ll see a wave of retirements and extended leaves of absence,” says Goldbeck. “The healthcare system is also facing down an extreme backlog of things like elective procedures which were postponed at the onset of the pandemic. There’s really no relief in sight.”
While there has been an uptick in enrolment in nursing schools, it’s unclear whether a surge in new entrants to the healthcare labour market will actually assuage these concerns. It’s likely, instead, that the healthcare system will feel the burden of COVID-19 for years to come. To encourage more entrants to the job market and to retain experts like family doctors, intervention may be required.
“The government has an opportunity to create incentives and opportunities not only for young people considering healthcare education, but also to keep much needed general practitioners available,” says Goldbeck. “We need family doctors in cities like Vancouver and Toronto; we also need them in rural locations like northern BC.”
“This labour shortage has the potential to become a real crisis, if it isn’t already,” says Goldbeck. “Swift intervention is very much needed.”
For Recruiters, Demand Increases While Talent Remains Reticent
Early in the pandemic, many recruiters saw diminished numbers of new inquiries from customers. This made sense; with so much uncertainty surrounding the viability of entire sectors, businesses reined in hiring and other expenditures. “Going into the pandemic, especially when fear was at its height, we expected to see many of our clients pause their placement inquiries,” says Goldbeck. “This certainly was the case for some businesses, but others found ways to thrive through the pandemic. However, working on those placements became extremely difficult.”
As businesses became reticent to hire, so, too, came talent’s reticence to move. Fearing instability in an unprecedented situation—especially nerves about a new company’s ability to weather the storm—talent overwhelmingly pulled back from the labour market. Those who had roles wanted to stay in them; the security of the status quo was worth more than the potential opportunities that came with a new role.
“We expected this trend to abate once the pandemic was more under control,” says Goldbeck. “But it hasn’t.”
This means that while demand increases from recovering businesses, the talent pool remains reluctant to engage.
“With the pandemic somewhat behind us, hiring is our focus,” says Andrew Taylor. “We’re already seeing intense competition for talent. Everyone is competing for the same talent pool so we’re needing to be creative in how we’re able to bring in and retain talent, especially among younger populations.”
“Checking in with other business owners in the recruiting spaces of New York, Chicago, and Montreal, I’ve found a similar pattern,” says Goldbeck, “All of us are facing a remarkably small pool of available talent. It seems that convincing talent to move—even for truly perfect opportunities—may actually be getting harder.”
“We can’t blame talent for being reticent,” says Goldbeck. “But at this point in the pandemic, the businesses that are hiring are the ones that have adapted and learned to thrive at the worst of times; it’s not the risky bet people might assume it to be.”