September 2021 Labour Force Update

As the Delta variant looms large across a mostly vaccinated Canada, the labour force grew by 157.1k (0.8%) in September to a new total of 19,131k, dwarfing forecasts which expected gains of only 59.5k. This change, mostly comprising the addition of full time jobs, reflects the market’s high demand for new talent that, as yet, has not materialized in the numbers required.1, 2 As of September, employment had regained its pre-pandemic levels for the first time since February 2020.

Notably, full time employment was up for women, reaching its pre-pandemic level for the first time in September. For core aged women between 24 and 54, employment levels were actually above pre-pandemic levels, increasing by 1.2% last month.2

Part-time employment remained mostly stable in September, though these jobs are perhaps the most precarious heading into an uncertain winter.2 

This change pushes the unemployment rate down to 6.9%, a decrease of 0.2%. This is the lowest the unemployment rate has been since the onset of the pandemic.2

“We’re now seeing the pent up demand for talent exerted upon the market, companies are working hard to find high quality candidates. But this gives candidates more leverage than they’ve had in recent memory.”3

Henry Goldbeck, President of Goldbeck Recruiting.

Survey by Region

Employment was up in six provinces in September. Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan posted increases, reflecting widespread economic recovery in a variety of industries. This is exemplified by Ontario’s gains, mostly in information, culture, and recreation contrasted with Quebec’s gains, mostly in manufacturing and professional services.2

Across the board, these gains were mostly made in full time work with the exception of Saskatchewan, which increased employment in part-time roles.2

British Columbia held steady, but was again the only province notably posting employment above pre-pandemic levels.2

Across the country, unemployment rates were largely above pre-pandemic levels. Despite the addition of 157.1k jobs in September and total employment surpassing pre-pandemic levels, Statcan notes, the higher unemployment rate reflects that employment growth has not matched population growth.2

The next challenge for each province is the implementation of vaccine mandates. Despite huge demand for talent, folks reticent to get the jab may self-select out of employment opportunities. As the world continues to shrink for unvaccinated people, however, it seems reasonable that most people will opt into the vaccination program in order to procure work.

Survey by Sector

All industries are more or less back into the swing of things, if at varying degrees. The implementation of vaccine mandates means a path forward to ostensibly safe business practices and a theoretical end of the pandemic. As such, companies across Canada and across industries are hiring at breakneck speed.

Notably, growth continued across the services-producing sector. The number of people working in this sector grew by 142,000 in September, finally surpassing its February 2020 employment level for the first time. The increases in September were led by growth in public administration (+37,000), information, culture and recreation (+33,000), and professional, scientific and technical services (+30,000).2

Curiously, the number of people working in accommodation (-27,000) and retail trade (-20,000) fell in September after several consecutive months of growth.2

Statcan also recorded notable growth in industries where people are able to work from home. Specifically, the number of people employed in public administration (+37,000; +3.5%) and professional, scientific and technical services (+30,000; +1.7%) grew for the second consecutive month; employment also increased in finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing (+27,000; +2.1%). The increase in public administration employment could be correlated to the staffers hired temporarily to man polling stations for the September snap election.2

IndustrySeptember 2021 Jobs ChangeAugust Change
Natural Resources ( Forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction)6.6-1.6
Transportation & Warehousing16.80.6
Finance & Insurance27.4-1.3
Wholesale & Retail Trade-2.40.6
Professional, Scientific and Technical Services29.60.9
Information, Culture and Recreation32.53.4
Accommodation & Food Services-26.77.5
Business, Building & Other Support Services16.6-2.3
Figures displayed are Canada-wide and x 1000

Despite Wage Increases, Labour Shortages Persist

Across Canada and across industries, a growing labour shortage is creating cause for concern.4 

“In the early months of this identifiable, widespread shortage, commentators speculated that wages weren’t high enough to entice people back to work,” says Goldbeck. “Now, even as compensation packages have increased, there’s a clear scarcity of great candidates.”3

How should a country, or an industry, respond in a case such as this? Industry specific shortages are familiar to all parts of Canada; provinces have long lacked enough nurses, teachers, skilled tradespeople, and production or manufacturing workers. But rarely have these industries (and more) felt this strain so acutely and simultaneously.4 

“There is cause for concern here, yes,” says Goldbeck, “because we’re seeing the culmination of a variety of ongoing issues that were exacerbated by the pandemic. Legislators need to develop and implement purpose-built solutions to alleviate this pressure in the market. Otherwise, I think Canada’s economic recovery could slow.”3

This issue is likely to only be inflamed by surges in retirements, further removing skilled, well developed workers from the market with no one to take their place.5 

“There needs to be an effort—in both skilled and professional ranks—to develop and upskill current workers,” says Goldbeck. “Or these problems will persist.”3

Dealbreaker: Work From Home Privileges 

What was once mere fodder for light conversation—the merits and future of working from home—has evolved into a hot blooded battle of wills between employees, candidates, and employers. 

“Employers, by and large, want everyone back in the office,” says Goldbeck. “Meanwhile, we’re seeing candidates walk away from perfect positions if permanent work from home isn’t an option. It has become a dealbreaker for a lot of people.”3

There are both advantages and disadvantages to operating with a full time remote work force. It can provide employees with the ability to stake a better work-life balance for example, but it makes onboarding new employees incredibly challenging.

“The problem is that this very complicated arrangement has to function seamlessly in order for everyone to embrace it,” says Goldbeck, “and that rarely happens.”3

“Ultimately, if employers want to attract and retain the best talent their industry has to offer,” adds Goldbeck, “they have to be flexible on the working from home issue. After all, there are clear merits; maybe it is time to overhaul the tradition of office work.”3

Prioritizing Employee Growth

Offering a big paycheque and a work from home option is a good start. But real employee happiness requires an alignment of core values. If an employee feels valued and proud to work with an organization, they’re more likely to stay. But fostering a culture which emphasizes integrity, honesty, and engagement must begin at the top. 

“Along with everyone else in this industry,” says Brittany Pitruniak, Marketing Director at Crowe MacKay LLP, “we’re looking for good people and trying to keep good people. The pandemic taught us that the only way to do that is to listen to what people want.”6 

Key to her company’s success, Pitruniak says, is creating a workplace culture that encourages employees to pursue the types of work that interests them. 

“We don’t really have lanes, so to speak,” says Pitruniak. “We want our employees to move around and find the work that they feel is most engaging. This allows them to explore and take responsibility for creating a great client experience.”6 

Encouraging employees to pursue professional satisfaction doesn’t come without risk. People—good people—can choose to pursue different work altogether. But the purpose of such an approach demonstrates to employees that they are valued, and that their contributions to the company define it. 

“We really care about our people and we want to see them grow,” says Pitruniak. “I don’t want employees to simply fit into the culture. I want them to enhance our culture. So it’s critical that they see what we stand for and like who we are, and for them to be aligned with that mission.”6

“It doesn’t have to be perfect, but I want employees to see themselves in the company, and to recognize a space for them on our team,” says Pitruniak. “We want to invest in those people.”6

The result of prioritizing employee satisfaction is the kind of workplace culture every organization strives for: a place where employees are innovative, creative, and committed to mutual success.

“It was a turning point to realize that yes, we’re going to lose people along the way,” says Pitruniak. “That’s fine. But when they leave, we want them to feel supported. Even if it’s some career coaching or having those relationships still in their network, we want them to still feel supported moving on, because they’re growing their career. And we’re glad to be a part of that journey.”6

1 Canada, Public Health Agency of. “Demographics: COVID-19 Vaccination Coverage in Canada – Canada.Ca.” Datasets;statistics;education and awareness. aem, January 15, 2021.
2 Government of Canada, Statistics Canada. “The Daily — Labour Force Survey, September 2021,” October 8, 2021.
3 Personal communication between Rose Agency and Henry Goldbeck, September 2021.
4 Wells, Victoria. “Posthaste: The Labour Shortage in Canada Is Getting Worse, Companies Say.” Financial Post, September 24, 2021.
5 “Emerging Labour Shortages in Canada.” Accessed September 30, 2021.