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Help Wanted: Private sector job vacancies, Q1 2019

June 2019

Ted Mallett, Vice-president and Chief Economist


Private sector job vacancies in Canada reached a new high in the first quarter of 2019. The vacancy rate hit 3.3 per cent in Q1, up from a revised 3.2 per cent in Q4 2018. The rate of growth, however, appears to be slowing. The current reading is only 0.2 per cent higher than Q1 2018, whereas the gain was 0.6 per cent in the one year after Q1 2017. 

CFIB's latest count represents roughly 435,000 private sector unfilled openings, almost 13,000 more than in the final quarter of 2018--which in turn had been revised upward because of stronger-than-expected growth in payroll employment. 

Although the national vacancy rate appears to be steadying, there are wide variations by industry. Construction sector vacancies are substantially higher than average, reaching 4.9 per cent in Q1--equalling pre-financial crisis levels of 2007. Personal services sector businesses face almost the same vacancy rates at 4.7 per cent. Both sectors have a high proportion of micro businesses, which structurally tend to struggle more with vacancies. Most other sectors saw an increase in vacancy rates in Q1 with the exception of oil and gas (2.3 per cent), Manufacturing (3 per cent), Finance-insurance-real estate (2.1 per cent) and information-arts-culture (1.9 per cent)--which saw no change.

The tightening was seen in most parts of the country. Quebec's labour market remained the most difficult for recruiters, with a 4.1 per cent vacancy rate. BC's (3.6 per cent) and Ontario's (3.3 per cent) were also above or at the national average. Bucking the national trend, there was a slight drop-off in Nova Scotia (2.3 per cent) and Alberta (2.1 per cent). With the exception of Newfoundland & Labrador, vacancies appear to be a bigger problem for skilled positions rather than semi- or unskilled, but the differences are narrowing.

Although geography and sector are factors, the drivers of vacancies are more significantly determined by future outlooks, growth intentions, business size and firm-specific job characteristics. There is also a strong influence on wages. Employers with at least one vacancy expected to push average organization-wide wage levels up by 2.2 per cent in Q1—versus an average 1.3 per cent gain planned by businesses without any job openings. 

June 12, 2019

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Topics in this Article: Economic Studies