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Dozens line up to register for the The National Job Fair & Training Expo at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, 2012.J.P. MOCZULSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Canada's labour market put in a remarkably sturdy showing in 2012, given the choppy global economic climate and a marked slowdown in domestic activity in the last half of the year.

All told, employers churned out 312,000 jobs -- all in full time work -- and the country's unemployment rate ebbed to a four-year low of 7.1 per cent in December from 7.5 per cent a year earlier.

But considerable variations lie behind how the labour market fared by sector, demographic group and province. Here is a look at what was hot and what was not in the labour market last year:


Older women

Women over the age of 55 were once again the biggest winners in the work force. Employment among older women swelled by 6.2 per cent last year, by far the largest increase of all demographic groups. It's a reflection in part of an aging population -- but also of employers' willingness to hire this group. The jobless rate among older women is 5.5 per cent, the lowest among all groups. Older men fared well too, with their employment levels swelling by 4.5 per cent, driving their unemployment rate to 6.3 per cent -- well below the national average.

Salaried workers

Both the private and the public sector grew in 2012. In sheer numbers, the private sector led the way with 242,000 new positions last year. It's a strong showing but gains in the public sector aren't expected to last given government cutbacks, with employment in the Ottawa area in particular likely to ebb.

Utilities, education

The goods side of the economy led last year's job growth in terms of percentage gains, particularly in utilities, manufacturing and agriculture. On the services side, education was the biggest gainer, where employment levels jumped 8.5 per cent. The sector's employment levels grew by more than 100,000 people last year. The so-called FIRE sector (finance, insurance and real estate) also saw gains, with 67,200 more people working in the sector.


No other province tallied such hefty percentage gains, with job growth of 3.7 per cent. The province still has the country's highest jobless rate, but it is half what it was in the mid-1980s. Wages are rising too -- Statscan's payrolls report shows Newfoundland had the fastest wage growth of all provinces between October of this year and last year. By sheer numbers though, Quebec saw the biggest increase in employment, with levels growing by 138,000.



A soft youth jobs market is a long-standing challenge. Unemployment among youth people aged 15 to 24 was 14.1 per cent last year, similar to a year ago even as the jobs picture brightened for virtually everyone else. In fact, the youth unemployment rate has been stuck around 14 per cent for the past two years. The silver lining -- many are flocking back to school, which may well explain the jump in education employment in the past year.


Self-employment soared in the recession, in keeping with patterns of past downturns. Last year though, the trend shifted, with self-employment falling by 0.8 per cent. All told, employment among the self employed was down by about 22,000 last year.

Professional and technical workers

Professional, scientific and technical services is a typically higher-paying sector, but its size dwindled in 2012. Employment in this industry shrank by nearly 70,000 last year and it registered the largest percentage decline of all sectors. Public administration fell too, little surprise given austerity at the city, provincial and federal levels.

Nova Scotia and New Brunswick

Both provinces saw weakness last year. In fact, they were the only ones in the country to experience outright employment declines in the year. Employment in Nova Scotia fell by 8,600 while in New Brunswick it shrank by 6,700. And a note on the territories: the jobs picture in all three was little changed from a year earlier. Yukon's jobless rate is 6.1 per cent (a percentage point below the national rate); the rate is 7.4 per cent in Northwest Territories and in Nunavut it is 14.2 per cent.

(Note, all Statistics Canada numbers will be revised using more current methodology for seasonal adjustment on Feb. 1. These revisions will go back three years).