The unemployment rate at the end of the first quarter was 6.7%, an improvement over the 6.9% unemployment rate at the end of the last quarter. During the previous 12 months Canada added 276,000 jobs.
The stock market continues to be relatively volatile, but perhaps that is the new norm. For the purposes of this report I focus on the TSX and it has enjoyed a reasonable period of growth ending the first quarter of 2017 at around 15,600 points. This was up slightly from a reading of 15,300 at the end of last quarter.
The oil patch has settled a little, but that isn’t a great news story. With the price of a barrel hovering around the $50 a barrel range there is a still a conservative approach to adding jobs. There has been some exodus of foreign money from the oil patch, allowing Canadian companies to increase their property holdings. While in some ways that is good, it is an indicator that the big players are investing their money in more business friendly jurisdictions. Even the approval of some pipelines has not generated the positive job impact it might have done a couple of years ago.
The Canadian dollar seems to be settled around the 75c US level for now, which is where it was last quarter. While there are some small benefits of a weak Canadian dollar, including positive impact on tourism, overall it is a negative for the Canadian economy and thus for job creation.
The banking sector is one of the bigger employers in Canada, and the Canadian banks have fared well this year with their stock prices riding high. They are also prudent money managers and have been very careful with their hiring. Areas of growth for the banks have been any area that improves productivity and profitability, including robotics. In addition risk mitigation in an era of economic uncertainty has created specific demands.
The telecommunications companies are other big employers in Canada and are also very cost conscious. While they demand the best talent in order to compete, they too, are also careful about keeping employment costs under control, particularly as they are also acquisitive, which can mean a big focus on integration of acquired companies. Some of the drivers of demand here include the highly competitive nature of the business, investment in infrastructure, technological innovation and a need to plan for a retiring “Boomer” workforce.
The US economy continues to add jobs in significant numbers, averaging more than 250,000 jobs a month. The demand for skills in the US will lure talent from Canada which is good for the individuals but not so good for Canada in the long term. What has not happened, and is different from previous economic times, is that Canada’s economy has not improved along with US economy, which is one of the indicators of our “new normal” environment.
The demand for the “trades” continues unabated, as the construction industry seems to be forever busy. Cranes dot the skies of Canada’s largest cities, and home renovation projects are hard to staff!
The three levels of government in Canada are big employers. Municipal, provincial and Federal governments employ a lot of people and with the current Federal government it was expected their ranks would grow. There has been some growth in the Federal payroll, about 40,000 in 2016 but it was expected to be more. All of these governments are dealing with the issue of a fast retiring upper echelon. The pensions are so lucrative that large numbers of civil servants are eligible for, and invariably take, retirement at a very early age. This will create opportunity for new jobs, but will also result in a significant brain drain from our government.
The Canadian Staffing Index is an indicator of the strength of the largest provider of talent in any economy (the staffing industry) and an excellent barometer of the health of Canada’s economy. The reading at the end of the first quarter was 110, which was significantly up from last quarter when it was 96. The reading is not adjusted and so is affected by number of available working hours etc. Having said that the indication is a positive one.
Here at Eagle we experienced a 25% increase in demand from our clients in the first quarter of 2017 versus the previous quarter, and the demand was about the same as the first quarter of 2016. We also experienced a 20% increase in people looking for work over the previous quarter and a 16% increase over the same quarter last year. This would suggest an uptick in activity that is a positive for the economy, if we can keep it going.
The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is Eagle’s busiest region, representing about 60% of our business. It is also the 4th largest city in North America, containing more than 50% of Canadian head offices and with a population of approximately six (6) million. This market has remained one of the busier markets in Canada, yet has not been as buoyant as previous years, with banks, telcos and provincial government all just a little slower with their hiring. We have seen a small increase in demand in the first quarter and anticipate things will pick up as the year progresses.
Western Canada is of course comprised of the oil patch in Alberta and the rest. Some provinces have fared better than others, with certainly Alberta taking the brunt of the hit because of its resource based employment. BC was actually the fastest growing province in Canada in 2016 but with an election coming and legislative interference harming the housing sector, the BC economy has started to slow down. Saskatchewan has fared better than other provinces with a business friendly government although it too is hit by a decline in oil revenues and is struggling with deficit reduction, so no job boom here. The Conference Board expects Alberta to be the fastest growing province in Canada for 2017 but that remains to be seen as the province is not attracting foreign investment (because of Federal and Provincial government policies) and unemployment remains high.
Eagle’s Eastern Canada region covers Ottawa, Montreal & the “Maritimes”. While there is a better mood amongst the Federal civil service under the Trudeau government, I can’t say that I share their optimism given his focus on anything but job creation. There has been an increase in Federal government hiring in 2017 with our civil service now employing an extra 23,000 in just the last year (wonder why our taxes are so high?). Quebec is enjoying low unemployment and continuing to fund new tech growth in the province (wonder where those transfer payments are spent?). We anticipate that to continue in 2017. The Maritime Provinces continue to struggle to create employment and we don’t expect much change there.
The Hot Client Demand.
At Eagle our focus in on professional staffing and the people in demand from our clients have been fairly consistent for some time. Program Managers, Project Managers and Business Analysts always seem to be in demand. It might just be our focus, but Change Management and Organizational Excellence resources are in relatively high demand too. Big data, analytics, CRM, web (portal and self-serve) and mobile expertise (especially developers) 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. Expertise in the Capital markets, both technical and functional, tends to be a constant ask in the GTA. Technology experts with functional expertise in Health Care is another skill set that also sees plenty of demand. This demand fluctuates based on geography and industry sectors, so we advise candidates to watch our website and apply for the roles for which they are best suited.
Outside of Eagle’s realm some of the in-demand in the trades, a growth in demand skills include the classic tradespeople, drivers, and new tech skills like Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, video gaming skills etc.
There are some positive indicators that would suggest light at the end of the tunnel, but it is early to tell whether that will lead to economic growth. At a very low growth in GDP, and increasing government debt loads and no clear fiscal policies to help I do not anticipate significant job growth in Canada for a while.
There are however bright spots, caused by demographic shifts (retiring Baby Boomers) and new technologies. The growth of the “gig economy” creates new opportunities for people to define their own destiny and become mini-entrepreneurs.
The effect of US policy changes by the Trump administration remain to be seen. Having said that early indicators could see immigration (positive for Canada), trade agreements (possibly negative for Canada) and defense (possibly negative for Canada) all having some impact.
In today’s Canada job seekers need to understand the growing sectors, the in demand jobs and be willing to go where the work is. If I was looking for work I would be moving to the larger centres, investing in in-demand skills and increasing my marketability with the right “attitude”.
That was my look at the Canadian job market for the third quarter in 2016 and some of its influences.
Kevin Dee is the founder and Chairman of Eagle (a Professional Staffing Company)
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