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Canadian employers had, on average, 248,000 job vacancies last fall, even as the country's jobless rate remained above 7 per cent, a new national survey shows.

A new measure of Canada's labour market shows a quarter of a million jobs remain vacant even as unemployment remains high.

Canadian businesses had, on average, 248,000 job openings last fall, Statistics Canada's new job vacancy survey shows. It found there were 3.3 unemployed people in Canada for every vacancy in the three months to September.

The national unemployment rate, meanwhile, hovers above 7 per cent.

The new survey helps fill a key gap in understanding changes in companies' appetite to hire. Canada's job vacancy rate, defined as the number of vacant positions divided by total labour demand, was 1.7 per cent in September.

According to the survey, demand for workers is greatest in the West, with the highest vacancy rates in Saskatchewan and Alberta.

The mining, quarrying and oil and gas extraction sector has the highest vacancy rate in the country, reflecting hot demand in the natural resources sector, where companies often compete amid a scarcity of skilled workers. These industries had almost 9,000 vacancies.

The survey "sheds new light on demand for labour among domestic businesses," said Emanuella Enenajor, economist at CIBC World Markets.

While the data "point to some slack in Canada's labour market, it's difficult to gauge the degree of slack, or whether the data mark an improvement or deterioration in recent months, given the lack of a historical time series," she noted.

The new survey puts Canada in line with the United States and Europe, which regularly track job openings. (In the United States, there are currently 4.2 unemployed for every job vacancy).

It was compiled by adding two questions to the agency's existing survey of employment, payroll and hours.

Year-over-year comparisons of changes in job vacancies will be available from June onwards. The index will be released on a quarterly basis.

The cross-Canada finding that there were more than three times the number of jobless people for every vacancy "confirms that the main problem is a lack of jobs, not alleged disincentives to work or barriers to labour mobility," said Erin Weir, economist at the United Steelworkers, in a note.

This isn't the first time Canada has released openings. A help-wanted index, based on the number of want ads published in Canadian newspapers, ran a decade ago, but was discontinued in 2003.

An analyst with Statistics Canada cautioned the data cannot be interpreted to determine if unemployed Canadians are spurning jobs for any particular reason. In particular, the data could be pointing to "mismatches" in job skills and geography between those who are unemployed and job openings, said Jason Gilmore of the agency's labour statistics division.

For instance, although comparisons are imperfect, similar surveys in the United States find there are about 4.2 unemployed for every vacancy, a result that would be expected given the higher unemployment rate south of the border, CIBC's Ms. Enenajor noted.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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