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Following the 2020 job drought for students and graduates, employers are back in force in 2021 on the hunt for new talent – flooding university and college job boards with postings and vying for attention at virtual campus career events as the economy rebounds. In some sectors, the competition is intense.

Employers desperate for cybersecurity specialists, for instance, have been calling McGill University “asking to [virtually] meet with students as early as the first day of school,” says Nayo Gariepy, chair of the Quebec regional advisory board of the Canadian Association of Career Educators and Employers.

The widespread adoption of work-from-home arrangements to curb the spread of COVID-19 has left organizations more vulnerable to privacy breaches and cybercrime. Post-secondary institutions can’t graduate students fast enough to meet the explosive demand, so talent scouts are positioning themselves to establish relationships with future grads interested in cybersecurity before someone else beats them to it, Mr. Gariepy, who is also a career and transition adviser at McGill’s school of continuing studies, said in an interview.

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The post-pandemic push to address skill shortages is not restricted to technology roles, he added. As public health restrictions ease, organizations need human resources specialists to manage flexible return-to-work protocols that blend the best of on-site collaboration with remote work. “HR professionals often find work within the same day of an application,” Mr. Gariepy said.

In Ontario, as the tourism and hospitality sectors cautiously reopen, recovery plans are hampered by staff shortages. “The opportunities are coming in from those industries fast and furious,” says Sheila Bruce, manager of career-ready planning at Toronto’s Seneca College. “We actually can’t meet all the needs with the number of students who are looking for co-op opportunities in those industries.” Demand is up, as well, for personal support workers and other health-care students.

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Over all, the hottest fields for students and grads, gauging by job postings, are finance, information technology, education, health care, non-profit and social services, campus recruitment platform Symplicity Corp. said in a recent report on trends at the 1,000 universities it works with, including almost 60 in Canada. “While the job market hasn’t made a full recovery, it’s no secret that many organizations are aggressively hiring,” Symplicity said.

One of the challenges recruiters face as the economy rebounds “is that students are getting scooped up faster than they can put out an offer,” Ms. Bruce said in an interview. “They’ll interview a student in the morning and by the afternoon the student … is no longer available.”

Co-op and other work-integrated-learning placements for Seneca students are “on track for what they were in 2019, and our opportunities for full-time students and graduates who are looking for career opportunities are actually up by 23 per cent as compared to pre-COVID, which is very positive,” she said.

Companies have found it more difficult to recruit for all positions lately, from the executive suite to entry level, says Nora Jenkins Townson, founder of Toronto-based HR agency Bright + Early. But the fierce competition for graduating students has come as a surprise to many.

“They used to be able to just post for an entry-level job and get a ton of qualified candidates and not have to pay them very much. That’s just not the case any more,” she said.

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“I think because the market is tight for hiring, employers are having to reconsider things … they have to be a bit more creative and thoughtful about what’s really required for the role. Do they really need that degree, or could it be a career-switcher or someone they could train or upskill from a different situation?” Are they returning to the same sources for candidates, or making a greater effort to diversify their workplaces? Today’s employees want to see a demonstrable commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, Ms. Jenkins Townson said in an interview.

“They [employers] need to try harder. The market is not what is used to be.”

Mr. Gariepy said employers are more willing, than in the past, to hire for potential and invest in training, and are more open to flexible work arrangements.

“It’s a candidate-driven market,” he said.

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