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Employers had trouble filling 435,000 jobs in first quarter: CFIB

Both the CFIB's vacancy rate and number of empty jobs for the first quarter were new highs, topping previous highs reached last year.
Both the CFIB's vacancy rate and number of empty jobs for the first quarter were new highs, topping previous highs reached last year.

There were approximately 435,000 private-sector jobs that employers had trouble filling during the first quarter of 2019, reaching another new high, according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

CFIB reported Wednesday that Canada’s private-sector job vacancy rate reached 3.3 per cent for the first three months of the year, up from 3.2 per cent for the fourth quarter of 2018.

By CFIB’s count, positions vacant for at least four months increased by nearly 13,000 over the last quarter of 2018. The fourth-quarter vacancy rate and vacancies had also been revised upward because of “stronger-than-expected” expansion in payroll employment.

Both the CFIB’s vacancy rate and number of empty jobs for the first quarter were new highs, topping previous highs reached last year. Yet compared with Q1 2018, the rate for the first quarter of this year was up only 0.2 percentage points, suggesting a slight slowdown.

“Although the national vacancy rate appears to be steadying, there are wide variations by industry,” the CFIB’s Help Wanted report stated.

Vacancies in the construction sector, for example, “are substantially higher than average, reaching 4.9 per cent in Q1 — equalling pre-financial crisis levels of 2007,” the report said.

Most sectors saw their vacancy rates rise, with the exception of oil and gas, manufacturing, finance-insurance-real estate and information-arts-culture industries, which saw no change.

The CFIB’s findings were based on 2,376 responses from business owners and operators, who were asked how many people they employ and how many jobs had gone unfilled for at least four months as a result of being unable to find suitable employees. The vacancy rates are defined as total vacancies, divided by the amount of total employment and vacancies, the report said.

Quebec led all other provinces in terms of its vacancy rate, which rose 0.1 percentage points from the previous quarter to 4.1 per cent. British Columbia and Ontario were next closest, at 3.6 per cent and 3.3 per cent, respectively.

CFIB vice-president and chief economist Ted Mallett said the performance of Quebec’s economy has been “fairly middling” in past decades. A more stable fiscal picture and the absence of a constitutional crisis, however, have created a more favourable business climate and a tighter labour market.

“Part of it is just the business owners themselves learning how to manage this new kind of condition that they never had to deal with before,” Mallett said. “That’s why we’re seeing this kind of big shift. And it takes time to change a business practice and business structure.”

The CFIB’s findings come as the Canadian economy is on a roll when it comes to employment data. Statistics Canada reported last week that the unemployment rate in May fell to 5.4 per cent, the lowest it has been since at least 1976, which followed the economy to add about 107,000 jobs in April.

In addition to geography and sector, the CFIB said drivers of vacancies are chiefly determined by future forecasts, growth intentions, business size and firm-specific job characteristics.

Mallett said vacancy rates are quite often structural, with small firms typically having higher rates than bigger ones.

“And that’s not really surprising, because when a micro firm is missing a particular person, the fit of that person matters a whole lot to the success of that business,” Mallett said.

Construction and personal services, the CFIB report said, are sectors with “a high proportion of micro businesses, which structurally tend to struggle more with vacancies.”

• Email: gzochodne@nationalpost.com | Twitter: GeoffZochodne

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