Commentary

Job postings plummet in March, slide continues in April

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How can we measure the toll of COVID-19 on Canadian jobs? Rising employment insurance claims are a key indicator of the effect of layoffs across the country. But what if we looked at indicators beyond official government sources—data that can give us real-time insight into the health of Canada’s labour market during this pandemic? One example is to look at job postings data.

The Conference Board examined changes in the number of job postings across Canada, and they paint a stark picture. The good news? Organizations are still advertising for positions. The bad news? Job postings fell by half between the beginning and the end of March, and that drop is continuing into April.

March saw a rapid decline in the number of job postings—and April is no better

The total number of monthly job postings in Canada fell by 23 per cent from January to March. However, this doesn’t tell us the full story. The first two weeks of March were business as usual, and were comparable with the 2020 average up to that point. Then, during the week of March 16, they dropped by 30 per cent, and fell a further 20 per cent during the last week of March. (See chart.)

Job postings in Canada fell by half in March

(weekly number of job postings in 2020)

Jan 6 Jan 20 Feb 3 Feb 17 Mar 2 Mar 16 Mar 30 15,000 20,000 25,000 30,000 35,000 40,000 45,000

Note: The week of April 13, 2020 only has 3 days’ worth of data, so these numbers were excluded.
Sources: Vicinity Jobs; The Conference Board of Canada.

Job postings data from the first two weeks of April reveal the labour market’s continuing weakness, with declines of 4 per cent in the first week and 24 per cent in the next. Declines of this magnitude are normally only seen during the week on which Christmas falls. The week of April 6 was a record low—it saw the lowest number of job postings since data became available in January 2018.

The precipitous drop in job postings in the middle of March suggests that economic indicators for that month will only tell part of the story. We will need to wait until all the data for April become available to fully assess the economic hit from COVID-19. However, early signs indicate that we’re not out of the woods yet.

All occupations are hit, but some more than others

Job postings have been declining in all broad occupational groups since the beginning of March. (See Table 1.) Agriculture and natural resource occupations have fared the best so far, but they still saw a 25 per cent drop over the month of March—and postings in these categories are still sliding.

Table 1

A big drop across all occupations

(percentage change in number of job postings from the week of March 2 to the week of April 6, 2020)

National Occupational Classification Percentage change
Management occupations –66.4
Business, finance and administration occupations –68.5
Natural and applied sciences and related occupations –58.7
Health occupations –50.4
Occupations in education, law and social, community and government services –57.1
Occupations in art, culture, recreation and sport –76.6
Sales and service occupations –63.2
Trades, transport and equipment operators and related occupations –57.4
Natural resources, agriculture and related production occupations –47.7
Occupations in manufacturing and utilities –55.3
Postings where no occupation code was available –62.8

Sources: Vicinity Jobs; The Conference Board of Canada.

At a more detailed level, some occupations are doing better than others. For example, with online ordering rapidly increasing, there is demand for couriers, messengers, and door-to-door distributors. Other occupations faring relatively well include home support workers, farm workers, and security guards.

As expected, occupations in art, culture, recreation, and sport have been the hardest hit, but health occupations’ job postings have also declined. In March, licensed nurses and nurses’ aides were still being recruited around normal levels to help with the ongoing crisis, but these occupations saw declines starting in early April.

No provinces or territories spared

Every province and territory saw at least a 30 per cent decline in the number of job postings during March. (See Table 2.) No part of the country has been unaffected, and we will need a coordinated effort to restart the economy once our health authorities deem it safe to do so.

Table 2

Every region saw a large decline

(percentage change in number of job postings from the week of March 2 to the week of April 6, 2020)

Region Percentage change Region Percentage change
Newfoundland and Labrador –67.6 Manitoba –66.4
Prince Edward Island –67.5 Saskatchewan –63.4
Nova Scotia –78.0 Alberta –68.6
New Brunswick –74.9 British Columbia –68.2
Quebec –46.7 Territories -81.6
Ontario –60.0    

Sources: Vicinity Jobs; The Conference Board of Canada.

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