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Canada’s labour force on the move as hiring intensifies in key sectors

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After more than a year of lockdowns, restrictions and hesitancy regarding career transition, Canada’s workers are on the move – both geographically and when it comes to jobs.

According to LinkedIn’s Canada Workforce Insights report, hiring is ramping up in Canada, but the pace of recovery differs dramatically between sectors. According to the report, the national hiring rate jumped 124 per cent between May of 2020 – when hiring was at a near standstill – and May of 2021. Even when compared to May, 2019, however, the national hiring rate is still 8.7 per cent higher.

The primary drivers of this spike in hiring are those industries that were forced to close or slow down during the pandemic, and are now ramping back up. For example, the construction, retail, media, real estate and health care sectors are seeing triple-digit increases in hiring since last year, and double-digit increases in hiring rates as compared to 2019.

“Things are getting back to normal – if not a little bit better – in a lot of industries and on the whole, but there was a huge variation between industries,” says Riva Gold, Canada Editor for LinkedIn News and author of the report.

For example, the energy and mining, entertainment, and recreation and travel industries are all experiencing a significant rebound in hiring as compared to May, 2020, but still remain below pre-pandemic levels.

Not only is there a significant discrepancy in recovery between industries, but between individual cities as well. According to the LinkedIn study, internal migration was up 27 per cent year-over-year, with many Canadians moving to the coasts.

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The cities that saw the greatest inflow of new residents are Vancouver, which experienced a 10.5 per cent increase in the inflow of residents since April, 2020, and Halifax, which experienced a 39 per cent increase in its inflow-outflow ratio. By contrast, the metro areas in and around Montreal saw a decline of 21 per cent, the Greater Toronto Area dropped 12.2 per cent, and Hamilton saw a dip of 18.9 per cent.

“We saw people moving to places where either the cost of living was lower, or the lifestyle was better and more appealing to them,” Ms. Gold says. “The pandemic prompted a rethink in their priorities, or just the option to live somewhere they wanted to live for years but couldn’t before remote work made it possible.”

 

The switch to remote work initially caused some experts to speculate that Canadians would leave big cities in order to enjoy a lower cost of living – but Roelof van Dijk, senior director of national research and analytics for commercial real estate firm Colliers Canada, says the data tells a different story. Rather than offering the freedom to live anywhere, he says the transition to remote work during the pandemic has since prompted many employers to pursue a hybrid model, requiring staff to remain within commuting distance.

“We’re starting to hear more about some of these people angling to get back into the downtowns as they anticipate having to go back to the office, and this is showing up in more excitement downtown on the condo sales side,” he says. “When you look at the commercial side, for office space for instance, we had a ton of space hit the sublet market early in the pandemic … we’ve seen a bit of a reversal of that.”

Mr. van Dijk anticipates an increase in real estate activity in the coming months, particularly in areas that allow residents to enjoy a lower cost of living while still remaining within a short commuting distance of their workplace.

“You’re likely going to see a lot of residential activity along the commuter rail lines,” he says. “People are taking this opportunity to move further – to get more space, more bang for your buck, better quality of life and work-life balance – but you can still quickly get on the train and get into the office downtown.”

Part of the reason why Mr. van Dijk is confident sales will increase in areas that are easily accessible from downtown is the uptick in hiring for office-bound professions such as tech, finance, real estate and insurance.

Despite soaring hiring numbers, demand for talent is only expected to increase as a result of resignations and retirements in the coming months, according to RBC senior economist Andrew Agopsowicz.

“What we saw during the pandemic was people holding off on either leaving their work for voluntary reasons, or even retirement,” he says. “Into the summer and the fall, all of these things are going to come together to make it more difficult for employers to hire skilled workers.”

Mr. Agopsowicz adds that Canada’s labour force has historically relied on immigration to make up for its aging population, but he says the country will need to do a better job utilizing the talent it already has until the borders reopen.

“More than the immigration, both women and visible minorities have historically had trouble finding work and working to their full potential,” he says. “Canada as a whole needs to make sure that we’re being very creative and open in terms of tapping those sources of labour going forward.”

 

Article by Jared Lindzon, special to The Globe and Mail

This article was originally published in The Globe and Mail on July 16, 2021