There are sound reasons to be skeptical about cries of labour shortages from employers when the country sports still-elevated levels of unemployed people.
It may rather be a function of a mismatch of skills to the jobs available, an unwillingness or inability among workers to move, or low wages or low-quality positions that fail to attract applicants.
Despite growing cries of shortages in some parts of the country, the Bank of Canada’s business outlook survey shows the percentage of firms reporting labour shortages this spring was unchanged from the winter and remains below historic averages.
New analysis from Statistics Canada shines a light on changes in labour market demand, and just where shortages are most acute. The findings do suggest a tightening in the jobs market compared with a year ago – at least in some provinces.
Across Canada, there was an average of 248,000 job vacancies in the first quarter of this year, an increase of 19,000 from the same period in 2011.
For every job vacancy, there were 5.8 unemployed people – down from 6.5 in March, 2011.
The drop in the ratio of unemployment to job vacancies stemmed from both an increase in job openings and a decline in the number of unemployed people, the agency said Wednesday.
Regional differences abound. The lowest ratios of unemployed people to job vacancies were in resource-rich provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Atlantic Canada – led by Newfoundland and New Brunswick – have the highest ratios.
Statscan also tracks job vacancy rates, which reflects to the share of jobs that are unfilled out of all jobs available.
In this case, higher job vacancy rates are often associated with periods of economic growth, while lower rates can be associated with spells of slower growth or economic contraction.
By province, the country’s highest job vacancy rate was in Alberta. But labour shortages seem to growing in Prince Edward Island too, where the rate more than doubled in the past year.
By sector, construction had the highest job vacancy rate, with 18,000 vacancies in the three-month period ending in March. Manufacturing had the lowest rate.
For 2011 as a whole, Canada had 235,000 job vacancies on average, with 5.9 unemployed people for every job vacancy.
This survey is a relatively new one for Statscan; it was introduced last year to help researchers understand changes in demand in the country’s labour market.