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Hundreds line up for various booths at the The National Job Fair & Training Expo at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, 2012.J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

Last week's disappointing Canadian employment report sheds light on another element of Canada's complicated economic transition away from its resource base and toward its non-resource sectors. Increasingly, this shift is translating into, well, shorter shifts.

The February numbers showed a thin 2,300-job dip in the month, basically a rounding error in Canada's 18-million-job market – extending the theme running for more than a year now of resilient overall employment in the face of the after-effects of the oil shock. But the numbers were juiced by part-time jobs, which surged nearly 50,000 – masking a disturbing slump of 52,000 in full-time employment.

We wouldn't want to read too much into a single month's employment numbers, good or bad, as the nature of Statistics Canada's monthly labour force survey makes it notoriously choppy and unpredictable. But this trend toward part-time jobs and away from full-time isn't confined to last month's numbers. The data of the past several months show a labour market that may be doing okay on the quantity front, but is suffering a serious deterioration of quality.

The turning point appears to have been last August when the economy was in the midst of a strong quarterly rebound from its first-half contraction, exports were coming off their biggest two-month growth spurt in six years and oil was hanging in there near $50 (U.S.) a barrel. In August, full-time employment peaked at 14.64 million. Since then, oil prices have slumped, the economy has slowed and the country has shed 70,000 full-time jobs, an average of nearly 12,000 a month.

Over the same period, part-time employment has risen by 100,000. The result has been a net gain of 30,000 jobs over the past six months – a positive number that looks much less positive when you recognize that the average weekly hours for part-time work are a bit less than half the average weekly full-time hours. The part-time gains don't, realistically, make up for the full-time losses.

What's more, there are now more than 900,000 so-called "involuntary" part-timers – people who would prefer full-time work, but have been unable to land a full-time job. That's up nearly 100,000 since September.

That's not the only evidence of a decaying labour market. Since private sector employment peaked in October, the private sector has shed 36,000 jobs, while public sector employment is down 27,000 over the same period. Those declines have been tempered by a 45,000-job rise in self-employment – which, in many cases, is hardly an equivalent trade-off for a public or private sector payroll job.

But a deeper dive into the data suggests that an awful lot of this labour market deterioration has taken place in Alberta. The dominoes from the oil slump continue to fall in the energy-rich province, whose unemployment rate hit a 20-year high of 7.9 per cent in February, having soared from 4.6 per cent in January, 2015.

Since August, Alberta's full-time employment has declined by 58,000 – accounting for 83 per cent of the total national decline. Toss in another 9,000 full-time jobs lost in the country's next-biggest oil-producing province, Newfoundland and Labrador, and you have accounted for nearly the entire drop in the country's full-time employment in the past six months.

Alberta is also responsible for nearly one-third of the growth in part-time work in the past six months. And its self-employment had been growing rapidly until last month – when it sank by roughly the same amount as the province's unemployment increased. Perhaps a coincidence, but it may speak to the perilous state around the fringes of Alberta's labour market.

In the rest of Canada, the job picture hasn't been nearly so bleak, but it has hardly been spectacular either. The job count has risen by 65,000 jobs in the past six months, but full-time employment has stagnated (down 2,500, actually). Even outside of the oil-battered provinces, the only gains are in part-time.

What these details make clear is that Canada's labour market, for all its apparent resilience, has a lot more slack in it than the overall employment numbers have been suggesting – and, it seems, a lot more fragility, too. And while much of the weakness might be in Alberta, this has become more than just an Alberta problem.