Canada’s Labour Shortage Hits Another Record With 1 In 18 Small Business Jobs Unfilled

MONTREAL ― If you’re looking for a job in Canada, consider working at a small business ― or moving to Quebec.

The latest edition of the Help Wanted Index from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) shows Canada’s labour shortage reaching a record high for the fifth straight quarter in a row.

There were 433,000 jobs sitting unfilled for 90 days or more in the third quarter of this year, up by 15,000 from the same time a year earlier.

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The most acute labour shortages were to be found in construction, and in a broad category known as “personal services,” which includes such activities like hair styling, dry cleaning, personal fitness training, funeral homes, pet care and credit protection services. It also includes things like astrologers and psychics, singing telegrams and even escort services.

What construction and these personal services industries have in common is that there are many small businesses among them, and it’s small businesses that are having the hardest time finding workers, said Ted Mallett, vice-president and chief economist at the CFIB.

Business with four or fewer employees have a vacancy rate of 5.4 per cent, meaning nearly one in 18 jobs are unfilled.

But finding the right person for a small business isn’t always easy.

“In a business with four employees, if one employee leaves that’s 25 per cent of the workforce (gone),” Mallett said.

“So the kind of person they need to fill that may be quite important. They need a skill set that can instantly fit in. That’s a tougher ask than a large firm with 200 employees (where) you lose one person, you can afford to bring in someone without the exact same skills and … train this person up.”

Broken down by province, Quebec had the largest labour shortage in the second quarter, with one in 25 (4 per cent) of all private sector jobs unfilled.

Mallett says to an extent this is due to the shortage taking Quebec businesses being by surprise. After decades of economic uncertainty, the province’s economy is booming, and businesses are grappling with previously unfamiliar problems.

“The business sector sees Quebec as a (better) long term bet and now that they’re expanding, they’re realizing the Quebec labour force hasn’t been as quick in expanding as perhaps they would expect,” Mallett said.

Unlike the resource industry in Western Canada, Quebec businesses have little experience addressing a labour shortage, “so they’ve had to learn those processes and skills,” Mallett added.

To help with the shortage, policymakers should focus on things that would “create a more nimble workforce, capable of re-learning quickly,” and help workers “move to where the opportunities are,” he suggested.

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