At the end of the third quarter in 2014 it would be hard to suggest that this has been a banner year for Canada’s economy. There have been plenty of bumps along the way although we have thus far been lucky to avoid natural disasters such as the Alberta floods last year.
When writing this market review, I use a number of “indicators” and try to factor in Eagle’s own experiences, as one of Canada’s larger professional staffing companies. The intent is to give the reader a view “from the trenches” to support the bigger picture view from the statisticians. This may be used by job seekers to understand at a high level where the opportunities might be, and for potential employers wondering if they will be facing skills shortages.
The employment situation did improve this quarter over last, with the unemployment rate dropping to 6.8%, from 7.1% at the end of Q2. In the last 12 months Canada has added 150,000 jobs which is 78,000 more than could have been said at the end of Q2 (for the previous 12 months).
One of the indicators that I use to gauge the state of the Canadian economy, and hence job market, is the TSX. All of the markets have been volatile for some time, with a general trend upwards. At the end of Q3, the TSX was at a high of 15,500 which was up 500 points since the end of Q2, when it was already high. Since then, however, we have seen the markets retract somewhat. As an indicator, it would suggest that companies listed on the TSX are generally healthy, which would suggest that they are hiring.
Canada’s oil sector continues to face numerous problems. There is currently a surfeit of oil which has driven the price of a barrel down from the end of Q2 price of $108 to $85 a barrel at the end of Q3. Canada is keen to expand its market beyond the US; however, attempts to build pipelines are currently facing serious challenges both in the US and here in Canada, primarily on environmental grounds. Despite all of that, the oil patch enjoys low unemployment, good benefits and continues to be one of the better places to be looking for work.
Perhaps a close second to the oil patch for employment opportunity is Canada’s financial sector, centered primarily in Toronto but with a healthy presence in Montreal. The highly competitive industry employs a huge number of people and seems to have an almost insatiable appetite for talent. Regulatory change, innovations in banking, technological advances and the need to address the retiring boomers are all reasons why the banks continue to hire.
The telecommunications sector is another very large sector that is always looking for talent. This is another very competitive environment, with a need to innovate and attract customers. The demands on their infrastructure, technology advancements, retiring boomers and expansion into new markets are all drivers of their need for people.
The construction industry is a great place to find work, both in the trades and in the head offices of the large companies. There are construction sites in most major cities with infrastructure projects, office towers and condo developments. There are also continued development in places like Fort MacMurray and the oil sands. To top the demand off, if you have ever tried to renovation project, small to medium sized repairs of just home alterations you will know how hard it is to find skilled tradespeople available.
Federal, Provincial and Municipal Governments continue to struggle with cost containment; however, they are huge employers, and people with the right skills are always in demand. The downsizing is most often achieved through attrition and there is always work to be done. Regulatory change, policy development and general administrative needs dictate the need for a large and skilled workforce that receives competitive incomes and very attractive pensions and benefits.
The Canadian Staffing Index is an indicator of the strength of the largest provider of talent in any economy and an excellent barometer of the health of Canada’s economy. The index continues to show an economy that has tepid growth and the latest reading of 112 is down slightly from the same period last year (113) but up from Q2 reading of 108. Here at Eagle we saw a drop of 5% in candidates applying for jobs, and an equivalent drop in demand from our clients. This can be attributed to a seasonal trend accounting for the summer holiday period. We do still see shortages of “in demand” skillsets, and a steady supply of candidates with skillsets in other areas.
Demand in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) is always fairly high, although we experience slightly less demand during the summer months. With the largest metropolitan area, the most head offices and the financial center for Canada, the GTA generates 60% of the talent demand here at Eagle. This is the city offering the best opportunities, and the hottest sectors would be the telecommunications sector, the financial sector, the insurance industry, the retail sector and the municipal and provincial governments. We don’t service the construction industry, but it too is a hot sector in the GTA (let’s not discuss the amount of road closures!).
Calgary is the “hub” for Western Canada as the capital of the oil patch. The city has the second largest number of head offices and, when coupled with the attractive tax situation in Alberta and the low unemployment rate in the province (4.4%), it is a popular destination for companies to set up in business, and hence to find employment. Saskatchewan enjoys the lowest unemployment rate of the Canadian provinces at 3.5% so it too is a great place to be looking for work.
Eagle’s Eastern Canada region covers Ottawa, Montreal and “the Maritimes”. Montreal continues to be fairly busy, particularly in the financial sector, the telcos and the construction industry. There is also some demand in St John’s, NFLD (population about 200,000), and in Halifax (approx. 400,000) but they are not big markets and the unemployment rate in the Eastern provinces is amongst the highest in Canada. The Federal Government in Ottawa continues to move ahead on some of its large initiatives, creating some demand, and this market is looking healthier for professionals than in some time.
The types of people that seem to be in constant demand from our clients have been fairly consistent. We see a consistent demand for Program Managers and Project Managers while Business Analysts are also always in demand. It might just be our focus, but Change Management and Organizational Excellence resources are in relatively high demand too. Big data, analytics and mobile expertise are specializations that we are seeing more and more. On the Finance and Accounting, side we see a consistent need for financial analysts, accountants with designations and public accounting experience plus controllers as a fairly consistent talent request. Technology experts with functional expertise in Health Care is another skill set that sees plenty of demand
So far 2014 has been very similar to 2013, with the unemployment rate slowly edging down in a two steps forward, one step backward kind of way. The stock market has done quite well, but the economy has not followed, suggesting that there is still a lack of confidence which otherwise would have fuelled a boom. Government cost cutting, uncertainty in the oil patch and a general global malaise seem to restrain us here in Canada. The US economy has recovered faster this year and typically that has a positive effect on Canada’s economy so perhaps we will see a strong fourth quarter. The retirement “bubble” of baby boomers should start to be felt over the coming year, so that will create employment opportunities and advancement opportunities for job seekers.
We expect to see more skills shortages in our knowledge economy, partly fuelled by the boomers retiring, but also caused by our education system not turning out the right skill sets and the advancements in technology creating a shortage as the skills catch up.
The unemployment rate around 6.8%, (7.1% in Ontario) is better than it has been for more than 5 years, and if we can keep at the level or better, it will be a good sign for job seekers. However the employment rate for professionals is more like more 3.5% or 4%, which is very near to full employment. This means that professionals should be able to find work if they are willing to be flexible in their demands.
For those people willing to go where the work is, we see continued opportunity in the oil patch, with obvious demand in Fort McMurray and all areas related to the oil sands. The cities with higher talent demand include the GTA, Calgary, Regina, Montreal, Edmonton and to a lesser degree Winnipeg, Vancouver and Saskatoon. The industry sectors that have the most demand have not changed and include banking, insurance, construction, telecommunications and the sectors that serve those industries.
That was my quarterly look at the Canadian job market and some of its influences.
Kevin Dee is CEO of Eagle (a Professional Staffing Company)
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