Published Wednesday, May 20, 2020 3:34PM EDT
Canada's economy shed nearly two million jobs – a record – in April, on top of one million in March. The national unemployment rate sits at 13 per cent, and would be even higher had 1.1 million Canadians not given up entirely on trying to find a job amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
But for every Canadian who stopped looking for work last month, there are two who were still attempting to land some sort of employment.
Despite a seemingly never-ending flood of layoffs and bankruptcies, hiring is happening – just at a much slower pace. Job website Indeed says the number of postings it is receiving is roughly half of its 2019 average. Ontario and Quebec, the two provinces hit hardest by the pandemic, have seen the biggest drops.
Brendon Bernard, an economist with Indeed, told CTVNews.ca on Wednesday that the "major shock to the system" caused by the pandemic seems to have stabilized since posting levels bottomed out in mid-April.
"We've been pretty stable for a few weeks now. We're kind of in this holding pattern," he said via telephone.
Those who work directly to match up employers looking to hire with prospective workers also see reasons for optimism.
"Believe it or not, there are opportunities," Garrett Hein, who works for the Express Employment Professionals staffing agency in Sarnia, Ont., told CTVNews.ca via telephone on Wednesday.
"We are trying to tell people 'Don't get discouraged; we will turn the corner' – and we are starting to turn the corner now, slowly."
JOBS LOST, AND NOT
Not every part of the economy was affected equally by the pandemic-induced crash in the jobs market, and not every sector is rebounding in the same way either.
According to Statistics Canada, job losses were largely concentrated in major industries where working from home is impossible, including retail, restaurants, hotels, construction and manufacturing.
The service sector has also been where Indeed has seen the biggest drop in activity, with postings for jobs in beauty and wellness, food preparation and service, and hospitality and tourism all down by more than 60 per cent.
Jessica Culo, who owns an Express Employment Professionals franchise in Edmonton, says administration-type jobs – including administrative assistants, receptionists, data-entry and customer-service roles – were also among the first to lose their jobs.
Many of those positions are now being filled once again as governments begin to loosen restrictions on gatherings and workplaces, Culo told CTVNews.ca on Wednesday via telephone.
"Administration is the one that's leading right now, as far as what companies are advertising (for) and what they're looking to bring back," she said.
While every industry has seen drops in job postings on Indeed, the decreases have been relatively mild in a few fields. Chief among those is health care, where the drop has been just over 20 per cent.
"You have job openings holding up relatively well for doctors and nurses, as well as personal support workers (and) health-care aides," Bernard said.
Security and public protection postings are next on that list, down by 32 per cent, while advertisements for positions in software development are down by 38 per cent.
Culo, whose agency works with more than 1,500 businesses in the Edmonton area, said construction jobs are returning as well, and employers are also looking for truck drivers – a role where the labour shortage is so significant in Canada that even a pandemic couldn't stop it.
Some of these roles are entry-level, but hiring is also happening for more professional positions. In southwestern Ontario, Hein's agency is seeing an uptick in administration jobs as well – but also positions "in all kinds of fields" including accounting and engineering, and even some light industrial work.
Still, Hein estimates that it will take "several months" for hiring levels to return to anything like what they were before the shutdown, with many companies playing catch-up on pre-pandemic recruitment efforts.
"Talking to companies, I think the first thing we're going to see is companies resuming hiring that was put on hold," he said.
WHERE WILL THE DEMAND BE?
Then there are the new jobs being created as companies gear up to return to something resembling normal operations. In Alberta, it is recommended that businesses screen all workers for possible symptoms of COVID-19 and mandated that anyone displaying cold-like symptoms not be allowed to remain in the workplace.
Some employers are responding to this by creating new positions in health and safety administration, such as greeters at construction sites who screen workers as they arrive and record their findings.
It isn't just because of government orders, as Culo sees it. Workers – especially those who live with those at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 – are also more concerned about workplace health and safety than they were before the pandemic, leading companies to develop new policies around health and train their employees on them. This creates even more potential for new jobs in this area.
"All organizations are looking to enhance their health and safety programs," Culo said.
"Companies have to make sure that they're going overboard in that communication, because they need their employees to feel safe."
On the national scale, Hein expects that once workplaces open back up, some of the biggest hiring sprees will be embarked upon in manufacturing facilities and warehouses, while there will also be demand for machinists.
There will also be shifts as businesses adjust their operations to match the changed expectations of the public. Bernard brings up the example of retail, where there might be less need for in-store workers in the near future as consumers opt for placing orders on their computers.
"They might see some customers [in the store], but will those numbers be enough to really support bringing back a full workforce, or half of it? We just don't know at this point," he said.
"At least temporarily, there's going to be a significant shift to online – and that might create a demand for certain workers in other areas."
Even when open positions exist, though, businesses may have ideas about how to fill them that don't involve hiring strangers who sent in resumes. Culo said many of the businesses she has talked to plan to bring back the workers they laid off during the pandemic before looking at other hiring pools.
Given that, she said, patience and adaptability are key skills for anyone currently seeking a new job.
"We're telling people to be patient and to really consider all options. Don't turn down something that you don’t think is totally within your wheelhouse. If you're being offered a flex or a contract role, consider it," she said.
"Proximity is power. Get near what you want to be doing, and you might open doors for yourself."