Canada had a record number of job vacancies in Q2 2021

Shelby Thevenot
Published: October 10, 2021

Canada's job vacancy rate in the second quarter of 2021 was the highest on record, according to Statistics Canada's quarterly job vacancies report.

The job vacancy rate represents the number of vacant positions as a portion of all available jobs, both vacant and occupied. Between April and June, the job vacancy rate in Canada was 4.6 per cent, the highest since comparable data came available in 2015. The high rate was influenced by both the rise in vacancies over the period, plus a decline in payroll employment.

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There were a total of 731,900 job vacancies last quarter, which is almost 26 per cent more vacancies than the same period two years ago. Statistics Canada did not measure job vacancy rates between March and September 2020, so the earliest comparable data for this period is from 2019.

Also, average wages were $22.85 per hour, which is $1.55 higher compared to 2019. Changes in average wages can be influenced by a number of factors such as wage growth, shifts in industries and occupations, or the types of jobs being filled — such as full-time or part-time positions.

Average wages grew in all provinces except for Newfoundland and Labrador, and Alberta. The large increases were in Prince Edward Island and British Columbia (B.C.), which had the highest average hourly wage among the provinces.

Job vacancies were up in all provinces compared to 2019. The largest increases were in Quebec and Ontario. Vacancy rates were highest in B.C. and Quebec.

Since even before the pandemic, Canada had been experiencing a labour shortage, which was being addressed in part through immigration. However, with some of the lowest numbers of new immigrants coming to Canada in 2020, it only served to exacerbate the tight labour-market conditions. Low immigration is only one factor though. Some say that government employment benefits have also discouraged people from returning to work. Economists also have other reasons that boil down to the more specific challenges of hard-hit sectors.

High vacancies in health care, construction, retail, among others

Some sectors saw especially high increases in vacancies. One in seven job vacancies in Canada were in the health care and social assistance sector. It had the largest two-year increase in vacancies, up more than 40,000 to 108,800. Vacancies grew in all sub-sectors, but especially hospitals, and nursing and residential care facilities. Nurses and psychiatric nurses had the largest increase of all occupations over the two-year period. Their average hourly wage was $32.50, up almost six per cent from 2019. A report from CBC suggest nurses are quitting in droves due to pandemic burnout. There was already a shortage of nurses from before the pandemic, and the increasingly difficult working conditions are making it worse.

Vacancies in construction were at a record high of 62,600 open positions. Construction trade helpers, carpenters, and electricians accounted for a large portion of the vacancies.

Job vacancies in retail were up to 84,300 in the last quarter, especially in food and beverage stores and building materials, and garden equipment and supplies dealers. Retail sales persons, and store shelf stockers, clerks and order fillers were among the top 10 occupations with the largest increase in vacancies from the second quarter of 2019 to this past quarter.

Manufacturing saw a record number of job vacancies at 65,900 open positions. Vacancies were spread across several sub-sectors, with the largest gains in food manufacturing and wood product manufacturing.

There was also an all-time high number of vacancies in accommodation and food services. The number of job vacancies in this sector was up to 89,100. The increase was entirely in the food services and drinking places sub-sector, which were vulnerable to public health restrictions. Food counter attendants, kitchen helpers and related support occupations experienced a large increase in vacancies. Statistics Canada says it was the second largest increase of any occupation over the two years. The average hourly wage for this occupation was $14.55, up more than six per cent from the same quarter in 2019.

RBC economist Carrie Freestone suggests that extended shutdowns in the services sector have led many workers to leave. For instance, although average wages in food services were higher compared to 2019, they were still lower compared to other sectors. The gap in wages may help explain why many workers are leaving the sector, Freestone writes in an RBC report.

More job vacancies expected

Freestone also suggests the number of vacancies is expected to rise as workers who held off quitting or retiring during the pandemic start to leave the labour market.

Statistics Canada Canadian Survey on Business Conditions suggests more than eight per cent of businesses expect to see an increase in job vacancies over this quarter. Quarterly job vacancy data for the third quarter of 2021 will be available in December.

According to the July job vacancies report, Canada was recruiting more than 800,000 positions, slightly more than in June. Accommodation and food services accounted for one-sixth of all job vacancies.

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