Job vacancies in Canadian health care reach all-time high amid pandemic

Mohanad Moetaz
Published: June 7, 2021

Despite increased demand due to COVID-19, Canada is still short thousands of health-care workers.

Vacancies reached an all-time high in the Canadian health-care and social assistance sector. By the end of 2020 there were 100,300 vacant positions in these sectors, according to a study by Statistics Canada. Labour shortages in health care has been a long-standing issue that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Challenges to fill vacancies may grow in the coming decades as the majority of Canada’s labour force ages into retirement. Furthering these demographic challenges, Canada’s already low birth rate may have dropped due to the pandemic. While complete national data are still not in, the province of British Columbia alone reported fewer births in 2020 compared to 2019, and preliminary data show a drop to just 1,781 new babies in May. For context, not one month dipped below 3,000 B.C. newborns in 2020 or 2019.

The results of this could mean that without high levels of immigration to support population growth, the working-age population will have to pay more with their time and money to support older generations. More seniors will also call for more health-care workers.

First-generation immigrants already make up nearly a quarter of the labour force. Unfortunately for newcomers wanting to work in Canada’s health-care sector, they have to overcome barriers related to credential recognition.

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Canadian credentials put on a pedestal

Many immigrants who work in nursing or health-care support occupations did not come to Canada intending to work in the field.

A large proportion of immigrants in nursing and health-care support occupations had transitioned into these jobs after having difficulty finding work. They typically would go back to school. After completing their studies, they would find it less of an issue to integrate into the sector because their Canadian credentials were suddenly recognized.

Those who received their formal training abroad often found it difficult to break into the health-care sector, because their credentials were not recognized.

A profile of immigrants in Canadian health care

Immigrants who came to Canada as adults were found to be overrepresented in the health-care sector.

In 2016, a total of 28 per cent of workers in nursing support occupations were immigrants, who made up just 24 per cent of the employed population.

Among those working in these occupations, 22 per cent were immigrants who arrived in Canada as adults, who made up just 16 per cent of the total employed population.

The representation of those from the Philippines and Sub-Saharan Africa in particular has increased significantly from 1996 to 2016. Nearly one third of adult immigrants in nursing and health-care support occupations were from the Philippines.

Most who wanted to come to Canada to work in health care were admitted to Canada under an economic class program as the principal applicant. Half who wanted to work in nursing and support positions were admitted under a permanent residence program specific to caregivers. The vast majority, however, who immigrated under the economic class and had gotten health-care jobs did not intend to work in these occupations at the time of their admission.

Getting employed in nursing was no easy feat for these newcomers, and two thirds were overqualified when they did land a job.

In the case of those from Sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, the majority completed their highest level of education in Canada.

The overrepresentation of immigrants in the nursing and health-care support sector is largely due to the increase of migration from the Philippines and Sub-Saharan Africa. There was also stable growth in immigrants from the Caribbean working in health care, which has been the case for several decades.

The reason for this overrepresentation is unclear, as there have not been many studies on it. We do know the relationship between immigrants and Canada’s labour market varies by gender, and place of origin. The findings in this particular Statistics Canada study raises questions about what motivates some immigrants to turn to health care and nursing occupations following their arrival in Canada.

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