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Three times more job hunters than vacancies: StatsCan

January 24, 2012

Dana Flavelle

For every vacant job in Canada, there were 3.3 Canadians looking for work this past summer, a new survey by Statistics Canada shows.

In total, there were 811,000 people looking for work in the three months ending in September but only 248,000 openings, the agency said Tuesday.

The first survey of its kind since Statistics Canada stopped tracking Help Wanted ads, it proves there is a shortage of jobs, not workers, one labour economist said.

“There used to be people who would suggest there are a lot of vacancies, that there are labour shortages. Employers would often complain about having trouble filling vacancies,” said Erin Weir, an economist with the United Steelworkers. “I think what today’s data does is confirm there’s a lack of jobs.”

The results suggest this is the wrong time for governments to cut the public service, Weir added. “Instead, governments should be taking advantage of historically low interest rates to make needed investments to create jobs,” Weir said.

However, other economists cautioned against reading too much into the data.

It’s hard to say what the new survey means as there’s no comparable historic data, said Benjamin Reitzes, senior economist with BMO Capital Markets.

“Without a history you can’t know what’s high or what’s low,” he said. As well, the figures haven’t been seasonally adjusted. Thus, education services had one of the highest ratios, with 10 job seekers for every vacancy. But that’s likely because schools are closed over the summer, Reitzes said.

Over the summer, vacancy rates were also high in construction, with 5 job seekers for every vacancy, and manufacturing, at 4.8 to 1, the report by Statistics Canada showed.

Geographically, the booming western provinces enjoyed the lowest ratio of vacancies to job seekers, with Saskatchewan leading at 1.5 job seekers for every vacancy followed by Alberta with 1.8 job seekers per opening.

Ontario was only slightly worse than the national average, with 3.5 job seekers for every vacancy. As the largest province, it had the highest absolute number of unemployed, at 316,300, and the most vacancies, at 90,000.

Some of the data could point to a mismatch in skills and geographic location between job seekers and employers with vacancies, Statistics Canada said. However, a certain amount of so-called “structural unemployment” is normal, Reitzes said.

The report tends to support underlying patterns of employment from other sources.

The number of firms reporting labour shortages in November and December “rose notably” in Western Canada but declined in central and eastern Canada, the Bank of Canada said in November.

In the most up-to-date labour report for December, Statistics Canada said there were 1.4 million Canadians officially unemployed.

The unemployment rate over the summer months was 7.1 to 7.3 per cent. It’s now 7.5 per cent.