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Booming jobs figures hide unevenness Add to ...

The Canadian economy has added the most amount of jobs in any two month-period in 31 years, and though the torrid pace of hiring is unlikely to last, the numbers show a sustained pickup in demand is boosting confidence among many employers.

The economy churned out 58,200 jobs in April, mostly in full-time, private-sector positions. The two-month bump of 140,500 positions is the biggest, in sheer number terms, since 1981 – a shift after half a year of little job creation.

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The key question is whether the burst in hiring will last. April’s jobs gain shows demand is growing on the goods side of the economy as the construction, manufacturing, natural resources and agriculture industries add to their head count. A flurry of mining and energy activity is causing many companies to boost recruiting efforts, while some factories in Central Canada are ramping up production as U.S. demand solidifies.

“Companies that hadn’t been hiring on a permanent basis, or only on contract, are now turning to us to hire for a permanent basis – and that is a strong indicator, because you wouldn’t do that if you weren’t confident,” said Jan Hein Bax, president of staffing firm Randstad Canada, who is seeing greatest demand in the Prairies, and in the auto, pharmaceutical and call-centre sectors.

A broad pickup in employment, however, masks a deeply uneven jobs market. Alberta has by far the country’s hottest jobs market, with employment growing at three times the national pace in the past year, while Ontario and Nova Scotia shed jobs last month. The public sector is trimming head count; private companies are hiring. More people over age 55 are working, but the labour market remains tough for younger people.

More people looking for work sent the country’s jobless rate up a notch to 7.3 per cent from 7.2 per cent a month earlier, Statistics Canada said Friday.

A volatile global economic environment – turmoil in Europe and a slowdown in the pace of U.S hiring – is clouding the outlook for Canada.

Indeed, “the global economy is showing signs of losing steam, and this could well affect the Canadian job market in the near term,” said Joëlle Noreau, senior economist at Desjardins, in a note. “Canada’s excellent performances of March and April are unlikely to be repeated between now and the end of the second quarter.”

In the near term, the robust jobs report along with surprisingly strong housing starts data this week, caused some economists to rethink second-quarter growth forecasts. Investors, meantime, boosted bets that the Bank of Canada will raise interest rates later this year.

As the student summer job season gets under way, Friday’s report shows young people are still not benefiting from broader employment gains. The youth jobless rate stayed at 13.9 per cent last month. In fact, employment has been little changed since July, 2009.

“There is, and should be significant concern about that,” said Gervan Fearon, economics professor at Ryerson University who is also dean of the G. Raymond Chang School.

Part-time positions are generally the first connection youth have to the labour market – and that’s an area where employment has declined from a year ago, he said. The silver lining is that many are going back to school and upgrading skills, which should, in the long run, boost their resilience in the labour market, he added.

Among regions, employment grew in the three Western-most provinces last month, along with Quebec, New Brunswick and Newfoundland. Ontario’s jobless rate jumped to 7.8 per cent from 7.4 per cent as more people searched for jobs and the province shed 7,700 positions.

In Quebec – where a steep tumble in employment last year raised eyebrows – April’s jobs gain essentially erased the employment drop and brought the province back to Sept., 2011 levels.

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