May 2021 Labour Update

Featuring Ducks Unlimited’s Mark Gloutney and Michelle Miller of G3 in Vancouver.

For the second consecutive month, the labour force in Canada has posted losses exceeding forecasts. For the month of May 2021, Statcan reported a decrease in employment of -0.4% for a total of 18,559,000. This loss brings the unemployment rate up to a total of 8.2% (+0.1%). After many months of pandemic-related labour force undulations, a familiar refrain has emerged: losses correlate to the implementation of restrictions, and it’s reasonable to assume this trend will continue until the pandemic is under control for good. Experts anticipated a loss of -23.5k; the reality was worse, totalling -68.0k.1

In May, full time employment sustained far fewer losses, while part-time employment was severely impacted, posting losses of -1.6% (-54,000). These losses remind us of the fragility of retail and hospitality sectors, with Statcan explicitly noting this month that “unemployment increases for visible minority youth”.1

May 2021 Employment Numbers by Region

In April 2021, losses were not felt equally across Canada with Ontario and British Columbia bearing the brunt of losses while New Brunswick actually posted increases.2 In May, this depressive trend was exerted more evenly across the country, with British Columbia, Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia introducing or continuing lockdown measures. Even though these losses may be predictable, they remain disappointing to Canadians looking forward to a “normal” summer season.1

Most notably, Statcan relates that fewer people are working in Ontario, which posted losses of -0.4%, and Nova Scotia, which lost jobs equalling -4.8%. Overall, these two provinces accounted for most of the losses in May; these losses are indelibly linked to lockdown measures and as such can be considered but a momentary setback. Other provinces, including Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, posted increases in employment, signalling perhaps that the economy is ready to bounce back—as soon as restrictions allow.1

“We’re all pleased to see signs that the employment landscape is improving in parts of Canada,” says Henry Goldbeck, President of Goldbeck Recruitment. “The most recent wave of COVID-19 restrictions took a toll on morale for many of our clients and, in fact, many candidates. Despite these losses, this month’s numbers show more promise.”3

“We’re hopeful that we’re finally reaching the light at the end of the tunnel,” says Goldbeck.3

May 2021 Employment Numbers by Sector

IndustryMay 2021 Jobs ChangeApril Change
Natural Resources ( Forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction)+8.6+2.2
Transportation & Warehousing21.9-6.6
Finance & Insurance-2.4+4.1
Wholesale & Retail Trade-21.2-69.5
Professional, Scientific and Support Services8.9+22.7
Information, Culture and Recreation5.7-24.9
Accommodation & Food Services-7.5-48.6
Business, Building & Other Support Services-0.9+3.3
Figures displayed are Canada-wide and x 1000

Across the US, recent surges in lumber prices have reflected a raw material shortage. Meanwhile, Canada has seen moderate but consistent growth in the natural resources sector including forestry. Statcan has declared that the natural resources sector, including forestry, is now the sector furthest along in its pandemic recovery, now surpassing February 2020 levels by 29,000 (+9.3). In May, natural resources posted gains of 8,600.1

But the US Department of Commerce’s recent decision to levy an 18.32% anti-dumping and anti-subsidy rate on Canadian lumber may change the sector’s growth trajectory.

“B.C. is frustrated and very concerned about the continued effect these unjustified punitive duties are having on our forest sector,” said B.C. Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development Katrine Conroy and B.C. Minister of State for Trade George Chow, “and on the families in communities throughout B.C. whose livelihoods depend on it.4

“We’re seeing a lot of growth in real estate, construction, and infrastructure development,” says Goldbeck, “and these agitations in the price of raw materials could pose a serious problem.”3

“An ongoing shortage of senior structural and civil engineers may create further stress on this sector,” says Alessia Pagliaroli, Senior Recruiter with Goldbeck Recruiting. “Building out a workforce in natural resources is not a simple task; hopefully, there won’t be sustained employment losses as a result of this move.”5

Preparing for the Post-Pandemic Exodus

“For the duration of the pandemic, we saw candidates become very nervous about making a change,” says Goldbeck. “Security in a current role was more valuable than the potential opportunities that came with making a change.”3

This difficulty was also felt by Mark Gloutney, Director of Regional Operations for Eastern Canada and BC at Ducks Unlimited, a non-profit organization. “It’s been surprisingly challenging for us to hire,” says Gloutney. “We’ve even made offers only to have candidates reconsider, admitting that they just aren’t willing to take the risk.”6

But, according to recent surveys, this may soon not be the case.

Recent surveys released by Robert Half and the Canadian Centre for the Purpose of the Corporation (CCPC) found that a remarkable number of Canadians may be planning to leave their jobs—and soon.7

Robert Half found many Canadians were experiencing burnout, discouraged by feelings of career stagnation. 62% of respondents said a lack of career advancement and disappointing salary growth were root causes of these feelings.7

Similarly, the CCPC found that 42% of survey respondents were planning on making a job or career change in the coming year.7

“People are becoming antsy to find something new,” says Goldbeck. “Employers—especially when hiring—must revisit compensation packages, advancement opportunities, and flexible working agreements in order to retain their top talent. Once the pandemic is safely behind us, we are anticipating something of an exodus of talented workers.”3

Challenges for Flexible Work Arrangements

Another mainstay in May’s employment numbers were consistent work from home (WFH) numbers. There was little change between April and May 2021, with the total number hovering at around 5.1 million.1 The work from home trend continues to correlate with those sectors in which WFH is even possible. For those in real estate, finance, or information technology, uptake remains high. For those in hospitality or retail, jobs are more likely to be lost altogether as WFH is not an option for many.

The initial work from home transition emerged from an immediate need and had far reaching implications—those that couldn’t work from home were often without recourse when a time came layoffs. “Our reductions in force were limited, but were most felt by the fundraising and community education teams,” says Gloutney. “But their work, by definition, requires people to be together and, when the pandemic hit, that work was simply impossible.”6

Similarly, trying to onboard new hires is made more difficult without the ability to share an office space. “The reality of trying to integrate into a new professional environment when everyone is working from home is a really daunting idea,” says Gloutney. “I think that is also causing hesitancy for a lot of candidates considering moving into a new role.”6

“We just had an interesting hire, where the candidate had 3 simultaneous offers,” says Gloutney. “We were pleased that the candidate chose to come work with our team, but it felt like the current reality with real estate.”6

For some companies, the transition to work from home went surprisingly smoothly and has created new ways to collaborate and bond as a team—even from kilometres away. “We were able to move 95% of our team into work from home setups essentially right away,” says Michelle Miller, CFO of Genuine Guide Gear. “Now, we have a morning virtual huddle and an afternoon social meeting. We’ve found a way to make it work. But we have also realized that permanent remote work for every employee isn’t really possible.”8

“Until pandemic restrictions are lifted, however, we are limited,” says Miller. “We can only have a small handful of staff on site at the same time and that has also posed real logistical challenges.”8

Negotiating the move back to the office isn’t only a logistical challenge. Many employees don’t want to return to onsite work, as a whole or in part. And much to the chagrin of employers, this trend doesn’t seem to be losing steam among workers.

“We recently placed a new employee and they were very pleased that the role could be done remotely,” says Miller. “We couldn’t guarantee that they could continue working from home full time, but the possibility itself was a huge draw.”8

“In the future, we’ll be in the office more than we are now,” says Goldbeck, “but less than we were before. The specifics of that new normal will come out in the wash, but we’ve come too far to simply revert to how things were pre-pandemic.”3

1 Government of Canada, Statistics Canada. “The Daily — Labour Force Survey, May 2021,” June 4, 2021.
2 Government of Canada, Statistics Canada. “The Daily — Labour Force Survey, April 2021,” May 7, 2021.
3 Personal communication between Rose Agency and Henry Goldbeck, May 2021.
4 Wood Business. “BC Gov: Increased US Softwood Lumber Duties Would Increase Cost of Housing and Construction,” May 21, 2021.
5 Personal communication between Rose Agency and Alessia Pagliaroli, June 2021.
7 “More Canadians Look to Quit Their Jobs after Pandemic: Survey – NEWS 1130.” Accessed June 4, 2021.