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Radhika Panjwani is a freelance writer from Toronto.

With job postings down in an uncertain labour market, experts and surveys show companies plan to lean on contract workers, freelancers and apprentices to fill the work and skills shortage.

More than half of Canadian organizations surveyed by human resources firm Robert Half say they plan to increase hiring in the first half of 2024.

The survey shows 54 per cent of organizations anticipate adding new permanent roles this year compared to 51 per cent in 2023. And 68 per cent expect to hire more contract workers as opposed to 65 per cent last year.

David Bolton, regional director at Robert Half, said 61 per cent of the managers polled cited company growth as the main reason for hiring, whereas 50 per cent said they plan to hire staff to fix a skills shortage.

Hiring contract workers allows companies to change course swiftly should the direction of business change. Companies also use contract workers to help with a project or to help ease the burden on existing employees, he said.

From the employee side, he said working on contract can be a good solution if one is looking for more flexibility.

“Companies are expecting people to be in the office a lot more and some job seekers may not like hearing that,” Mr. Bolton said. “Contract work can add value and flexibility to your job and help you acquire new skills, whether it’s an opportunity to work in a new industry, be part of a project or learn a new accounting software.”

He said the job market is less in favour of job seekers now than it was a year ago, but what really surprised him “is the openness and appetite to hire given all the gloom and doom news.”

Job postings down

That appetite to hire wasn’t there in 2023. A recent report from job search portal Indeed shows Canadian job postings were down 29 per cent year-over-year in mid-November.

Brendon Bernard, a senior economist at Indeed, said the Canadian labour market was robust at the start of 2023 but has since softened. And as the economy has slowed, job openings have levelled off from the previous surge.

He said, according to Statistics Canada, the proportion of permanent roles out of all job vacancies increased from before the pandemic to 2022 and then dipped slightly by the fall of 2023. This highlights “how some employers are more likely to offer permanent positions when the labour market is tight,” he said. However, this “could be a sign that temporary positions will be more common in the coming year as the hiring situation has cooled further.”

Mr. Bernard pointed to several key trends that will unfold in 2024:

  • Hiring and job postings: Organizations will have less appetite for hiring in 2024, noted Mr. Bernard. He added Canadian job postings on Indeed fell throughout 2023 across most sectors. “The huge hiring boom that happened in the technology sector [through early 2022] really came to a crashing halt pretty quickly. Some of the sectors that saw the largest decline in job postings were software development, IT operations, information design and data-related jobs. We also saw major pullback in driving, food services, manufacturing, loading and stocking.”
  • Layoffs and unemployment rates: The unemployment rate increased to 5.7 per cent in October from 5 per cent in the first quarter of 2023. Layoffs have been low over the past two years but if the economy heads into recession, this scenario will change, said Mr. Bernard.
  • Wage growth: Canadian wage growth was relatively high in 2023. Indeed Wage Tracker, which measures progression in wages [as mentioned in job postings], shows average year-over-year growth of 4.4 per cent. This growth will be harder to sustain in 2024 as the job market has now shifted from a job seekers’ market to a more even balance of power between seekers and employers.
  • Artificial Intelligence: At the end of Oct. 2023., generative AI was mentioned in 0.06 per cent of Canadian job postings on Indeed, a tiny sliver but quickly growing share, said Mr. Bernard. He adds it’s early days but AI will become more noticeable in the year ahead.
  • Population growth: Canada’s population growth, which saw a spike, will remain high and boost labour supply and some aspects of the demand. The share of clicks on Canadian job postings from abroad rose from 6 per cent before the pandemic to 11 per cent in Oct. 2023. This is significant as International migration impacts the economy and is impacted by it as well.

Rise in apprentices

Peninsula Group, a global consultancy supporting small and medium businesses (SMB), conducted a global survey of 79,000 SMBs across Canada, the U.K., Australia, Ireland and New Zealand to gauge the top priorities for employers in 2024. It found employers are planning to bridge the ongoing labour and skills shortage through various measures including upskilling and training the current staff.

The report says Canadian employers are turning to apprentices to fill the skills shortage. According to the report, in Canada there was a 217-per-cent increase year-over-year in apprenticeship roles.

When Harvard Business Review Analytic Services Report and Fiverr Business Solutions, a freelance platform, surveyed businesses in the U.S., 20 per cent of respondents said their organization’s work, on average, is being carried out by freelancers. And 51 per cent said they will likely employ more freelance workers than they do now.

The move was prompted by the pandemic, Great Resignation and an increase in remote and hybrid work. As a result, companies are re-evaluating the skills and roles they would need for the future to work with freelance workers.

“It’s crystal clear from this report that more and more medium and large businesses are taking advantage of freelance talent,” writes Micha Kaufman, chief executive officer of Fiverr, in a statement. “This is a trajectory we have witnessed [at Fiverr], and we expect it will continue. It is crucial for companies to have a strategy to integrate freelancers within their work force if they want to stay innovative and relevant in the future.”

What I’m reading around the web

  • Experts share their tips for productivity in this article on CNN. They suggest time-blocking and emptying the brain of everything that’s weighing you down by writing it on a master list.
  • In this blog, career coach Hannah Morgan lists 31 jobs for introverts.
  • Ask any career expert and they will tell you the power of networking, but networking can be tough. This article from Forbes provides help on what questions to ask during networking.

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