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CANADIAN JOB MARKET -- First Quarter 2012

General Observations:

From a job market perspective, the first quarter of 2012 here in Canada has been very similar in many respects to the last quarter of 2011.  The unemployment rate has bounced around a little but today at 7.2% unemployment it is somewhat better than the 7.5% unemployment rate in December.  After a couple of months of little change we added 82,000 jobs in March which means that Canada has added 197,000 jobs in the last 12 months.

The high price per barrel of oil is the primary driver behind the “hot” job market in Calgary, yet that is somewhat dampened by the strength of the Canadian dollar which has been at or close to par with the US dollar for some time now.  The continuing extremely low prices for Natural Gas have somewhat dampened the demand for talent in Western Canada, if you can believe it.  A high gas price would result in a severe shortage of talent!

The financial sector in Canada remains strong and hence is a strong source of employment, with new projects and initiatives creating jobs that impact primarily the GTA and Montreal … and we continue to see demand in those cities. 

A stable economy is essential for business to invest in growth, and while Canada has been very stable for some time now, we are affected by global economic conditions creating a dampener on job growth here.   This can be seen in the continuing fluctuations in the stock market with the TSX bouncing between 11,500 and 12,500 for about the last nine (9) months, yet performing very slightly better this quarter than last.

The multiple levels of Government here in Canada employ a lot of people and yet most governments have been struggling to reduce deficits and contain costs, which will affect the opportunity for work in this sector.  There will always be work with these employers even as lay-offs happen, but current restraint means there is a reduced demand there. 

The staffing industry is obviously a good indicator of the job market and the first quarter of the year has been quietly positive.  The Canadian Staffing Index is up about 10% over the same period last year but down a little from a busier last quarter of 2011 … again suggesting a “3 steps forward, 2 steps back” type of recovery.  On the professional staffing front here at Eagle we have seen demand from our clients increase by about 20% in the first quarter of 2012 as compared to the last quarter of 2011.

More Specifically:

For Eagle the GTA(Greater Toronto Area) has been Canada’s hottest job market for some time now.  This is because it is Canada’s largest city, with a large number of head offices and home to the greater part of the financial sector in Canada.  The Ontario Government is still hiring, but the opportunities are definitely impacted by a need to cut back costs.  The biggest drivers for growth have been the financial, retail, insurance and telecommunication sectors.

The continued strength of the oil patch keeps Calgary as the hottest job market in Western Canada with a continued demand for skilled resources at all levels and across all of Eagle’s lines of business.  As mentioned earlier a high Natural Gas price  would create serious skills shortages in Calgary, but the demand is strong based largely on the high price per barrel of oil.  Edmonton and Regina are also enjoying strong employment, so Western Canada continues to be a busy place, and jobs are there to be had.

Eagle’s Eastern Canada region is impacted largely by the Federal Governments cutbacks and reduced demand in Ottawa.  Montreal however continues to provide job opportunities, most specifically in the financial, insurance and telecommunications industries.  The Maritime provinces are generally tough places to find jobs however the ship building contracts for Halifax and the oil off Newfoundland should create some decent demand.  In SW Ontario the Auto sector has stabilized again but RIM’s woes cast a shadow in this region.


The first quarter of 2012 has been “more of the same”, a slow recovery (if we can still call it that) and unemployment rates in the low to mid 7% range.  The recovery remains tentative but probably more optimistic than 2011 as the US and Europe seem to be finding their way through their significant challenges.

Anecdotally (Eagle’s experience) and from a staffing perspective, there has been increased demand for people this quarter over the same period last year.  The indicators are that the pace of demand is increasing and that the second quarter should see that trend continue.

The Canadian Federal Government, along with many other levels of government are looking at ways to cut costs and reduce deficits.  This has led to lay-offs and a reduced demand for people and thus the bigger opportunity for jobs is the private sector.

The cities with the most opportunity remain Toronto and Calgary, with Montreal still showing good signs.  Some other markets like Edmonton and Regina seem to be faring well too.  Outside of that the Maritimes will enjoy some job growth associated with the shipbuilding contracts and oil business off Newfoundland.

The hottest markets are experiencing some skills shortages for the highly skilled professionals, and we expect to see these issues worsen in Q2.  I would also expect to see increased demand for skilled trades particularly in hot areas like Toronto and the oil patch.  By necessity, hiring managers are beginning to recognize the “need for speed” in their hiring decisions.  Thus I will end this write-up with my “standing advice” to ANY company needing people:

(a) Start the process now with a strong PLANNING phase;

(b) Develop very clean processes to find, screen, choose, hire and onboard these new resources;

(c) Know that you will have a lot of competition and therefore speed in decision making will be critical;

(d) The job doesn’t stop there … retention becomes the next challenge! 

That was my monthly look at the Canadian job market and some of its influences.