OTTAWA – At the beginning of the first quarter of 2021, the second wave of COVID-19 was receding in many parts of Canada. As a result, public health restrictions were eased in early to mid-February in a number of provinces, including Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta. Although the third wave of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations began before the end of the quarter, the tightening of public health measures—and associated labour market impacts—occurred in early April in most jurisdictions.
Job vacancies and job vacancy rate continue to increase
There were 553,500 job vacancies in the first quarter of 2021, up by 40,700 (+7.9%) from the same quarter one year earlier and by 47,300 (+9.4%) compared with two years earlier.
The job vacancy rate—which represents vacant positions as a proportion of all positions (vacant and occupied)—increased 0.5 percentage points to 3.6% in the first quarter of 2021, the highest rate since comparable data became available in 2015. The increase was the result of both an increase in vacancies and a decline (-1,122,300; -6.9%) in payroll employment.
While job vacancies increased from the first quarter of 2020 to the same quarter in 2021, unemployment increased dramatically (+427,000, according to Labour Force Survey data) over the same period, a direct result of the COVID-19 public health restrictions. As a result, the ratio of unemployed people per job vacancy increased from 2.6 to 3.2 year over year.
Nearly one in five job vacancies is in health care and social assistance
In the first quarter of 2021, the health care and social assistance sector experienced a larger year-over-year increase in job vacancies than all other sectors. Total vacancies in the sector rose by 27,700 (+39.0%) to 98,700, with the increase spread across all subsectors, led by hospitals and by nursing and residential care facilities.
The three occupations with the largest year-over-year increase in vacancies in the first quarter of 2021 were related to the health care and social assistance sector: registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses (+7,200); nurse aides, orderlies and patient service associates (+5,400); and licensed practical nurses (+4,000). Of all vacancies for registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses, almost one-half (49.4%) of positions had been vacant for 90 days or more. In general, many factors can affect the duration of job vacancies, including the characteristics of the position, the offered wage, the skills required, recruitment processes and the conditions of the local labour market.
Following the initial COVID-19 economic shutdown, payroll employment in health care and social assistance reached a recent low in May 2020 (Survey of Employment, Payrolls and Hours, monthly seasonally adjusted data). Since then, employment in this sector has increased; it was among the first to surpass its pre-COVID-19 level. In March 2021, employment in this sector was 1.8% above its February 2020 level. The high level of vacancies indicates that, despite this increase in employment, employers in health care and social assistance continued to face staffing challenges in the first quarter as they addressed the COVID-19 pandemic.
Job vacancies in construction reach all-time high
Vacancies in the construction sector rose by 11,500 (+33.1%) to 46,400 in the first quarter of 2021, the highest number of vacancies for this sector since comparable data became available in 2015. Almost two-thirds of the increase was in the specialty trade contractors (+7,500; +34.1%) subsector—which comprises establishments primarily engaged in trade activities such as masonry, painting or electrical work—while vacancies in the construction of buildings subsector rose by 3,500 (+36.8%).
By occupation, a large portion of the increase in vacancies in the construction sector during this period was for carpenters (+2,300) and construction trades helpers and labourers (+2,000). Both of these occupations were among the 10 with the largest year-over-year increases in vacancies. According to the Canadian Survey on Business Conditions, in the first quarter of 2021, just over one-third (33.8%) of businesses in construction reported recruiting and retaining skilled employees as an obstacle to their business, the highest proportion of all sectors.
Compared with the first quarter of 2020, Quebec was the largest contributor to the increase in vacancies in construction (+3,700). From the first quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021, the number of building permits issued in Canada rose 37.3%, with an increase of 63.7% in Quebec.
Record number of job vacancies in professional, scientific and technical services
In professional, scientific and technical services, the number of vacancies reached a record high (47,800) in the first quarter of 2021, up 5,200 (+12.3%) from one year earlier. Vacancies for computer and information systems professionals—many of whom are typically in the professional, scientific and technical services sector—increased by 2,100 (+11.1%).
Notable job vacancy declines in accommodation and food services
In the accommodation and food services sector, the number of job vacancies fell by 11,500 (-19.1%) year over year in the first quarter of 2021, with notable declines in both the food services and drinking places (-7,800) and the accommodation services (-3,700) subsectors. The sector as a whole was among those where public health restrictions had the greatest impact on both employment and job vacancies during the first quarter.
Vacancies in the accommodation and food services sector are likely to increase from the first to the second quarter of 2021, consistent with normal seasonal patterns. In addition, the easing of public health restrictions affecting bars and restaurants may be reflected in an increase in unmet labour demand. Based on second-quarter results from the Canadian Survey on Business Conditions, this expectation was shared by employers interviewed between April 1 and May 6, with more than one in three businesses (36.4%) expecting to face a shortage of labour in the next three months, a higher proportion than in all other sectors.
Largest increase in job vacancies in Quebec
Quebec had the largest year-over-year increase in job vacancies, up 18,500 (+14.4%) in the first quarter of 2021, driven by health care and social assistance (+5,900), manufacturing (+5,100), and construction (+3,700). The job vacancy rate in the province rose 0.8 percentage points to 4.2% in the first quarter of 2021, the result of the increase in vacancies and a decline in employment. Côte-Nord/Nord-du-Québec had the highest job vacancy rate of all regions in Quebec, at 6.1%, followed by Capitale-Nationale (4.8%), Laurentides (4.7%) and Outaouais (4.6%).
As there were increases in both the number of vacancies (+14.4%) and the number of unemployed (+21.0%) over the same period, the unemployed-to-job vacancy ratio in Quebec was little changed, at 2.4. This was the second-lowest ratio among the provinces. In contrast, Newfoundland and Labrador had the lowest job vacancy rate in Canada (2.0%) in the first quarter of 2021, and 10.0 unemployed per vacancy.
As Canada transitions out of the third wave of the pandemic over the summer, monthly data from the Job Vacancy and Wage Survey will provide insights into the challenges faced by employers seeking to fully resume their operations. At the same time, data from the Labour Force Survey will provide insights on changing employment by occupation and industry, as well as other factors that are important to the balance between labour supply and demand, including wages and other aspects of quality of employment.
Statistics Canada report released June 22 2021.