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Statistics Canada’s new survey will ask up to 100,000 employers about their hiring plans.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Statistics Canada has launched a major new job vacancy survey as economists and government officials continue to work out the best way to measure labour shortages in an era of online job boards.

Up to 100,000 employers will be asked about their hiring plans for the quarterly survey and the first results will be released late this summer.

The $8-million survey, which was announced several months ago and is just now under way, marks a return to more traditional methods after the Conservative government ran into criticism for relying heavily on a much less expensive private software program.

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The Globe and Mail revealed that the government's claims were the result of a problem with the data, which included jobs from the classified site Kijiji where the same job can be reposted many times, producing a false impression of a rising demand for labour.

When jobs from Kijiji were removed from the data set, the rise in job vacancies essentially disappeared.

Yet one year later, government officials and other labour market observers continue to struggle with the best way to measure the job market in an age when traditional job ads have been replaced with online job boards.

Two federal departments – Finance Canada and Employment and Social Development Canada – continue to pay for a database of online job ads from Wanted Analytics. The company runs software that scans online job boards as well as individual company websites to produce a database of jobs. The database it provides to government departments can be altered to include or remove various sources, including Kijiji.

Finance Canada renewed its contract with Wanted in December for another year at a cost of $18,250.

A Finance Canada spokesperson said the department uses the data along with other sources – such as Statistics Canada and the Bank of Canada – as part of its analysis of the labour market.

Employment and Social Development Canada said it does not use the database for labour market projections.

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"This data can still be useful to the department to better understand current labour market conditions as they pertain to online job postings," ESDC spokesperson Simon Rivet wrote in an e-mail.

Dan Kelly, the president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said his organization supports the new survey even though some employers complain that answering questionnaires is a form of red tape.

Mr. Kelly said he expects the new survey will support the view of employers that labour shortages are real and that measures such as the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, while controversial, are needed.

"Ultimately we need better sources that everyone can rely on and accept as a true state of affairs on the labour market," he said.

A Statistics Canada spokesperson said the new survey will show the number of job vacancies and which regions are experiencing the most labour shortages, the offered average wage per occupation with vacancies, the distribution of job vacancies by level of education and experience and the proportion of vacancies that are difficult to fill, by occupation.

A second new survey, called the National Wage Survey, is still in development. It is expected to cost $6-million a year and launch in the second half of 2015 with a first release expected in 2016. The goal of that survey is to produce occupational wage information at a regional level.

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Still, those involved in analyzing Canada's labour market continue to struggle with the role, if any, that Kijiji jobs should play in analyzing the labour force. There are many legitimate jobs on Kijiji that may not be posted on other sites, so excluding the site entirely is a concern for some.

The Conference Board of Canada relies on Wanted Analytics for its help-wanted index, a service it provides to clients for a fee. The group asked Wanted Analytics to remove Kijiji as a source last year, but continues to work with the company on the best approach to the issue.

"What we're reviewing now is whether we should bring Kijiji back into the fray," said Pedro Antunes, the board's deputy chief economist. "What Wanted is working on now is to try and make sure that they do not duplicate those job postings … I think there is something to be said for Kijiji, because there are these part-time jobs, jobs that are in a lot of small businesses, that perhaps are posted on Kijiji that aren't posted elsewhere."

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