Construction sector job vacancies reach record high
By Adam FreillConstruction Labour
Recruiting skilled employees expected to be an obstacle for nearly two-fifths of Canadian businesses.
Employers in the construction sector were actively seeking to fill 81,500 vacant positions in the first quarter. That, says Statistics Canada, is a seasonally adjusted rise of more than seven per cent, or 5,400 positions, from the fourth quarter of 2021 and more than double the number (38,800) observed in the first quarter of 2020.
Vacancies were spread across many occupations with carpenters and construction trades helpers and labourers combining to represent more than 15,000 more openings in Q1 of this year than Q1 2020.
In the wider job market, vacancies climbed to 957,500 overall in the first quarter, the highest quarterly number on record. As employers continued to face an increasingly tight labour pool, vacancies were up 2.7 per cent from the previous peak observed in the fourth quarter of 2021, and up 72.3 per cent from the first quarter of 2020.
The job vacancy rate — which measures the number of vacant positions as a proportion of total labour demand (filled and vacant positions) — was 5.6 per cent in the first quarter.
The job vacancy rate has been trending upward since the first quarter of 2016. It increased sharply from 3.8 per cent in the first quarter of 2021 to 5.3 per cent in the third quarter of the same year. This was mainly the result of an increase in the number of vacancies, while payroll employment declined by three per cent from the first to the third quarter of 2021.
Since then, the job vacancy rate has continued to increase, but at a slower pace as payroll employment was recovering, reaching 5.5 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2021 and 5.6 per cent in the first quarter of 2022.
At the national level, the unemployment to job vacancy ratio was 1.3 in the first quarter, down from 2.2 in the same quarter of 2020. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ratio of unemployment to job vacancies dropped from a high of 3.9 in the first quarter of 2016 to a low of 2.2 in the first quarter of 2020. The unprecedented increase in the number of unemployed from the first to the fourth quarter of 2020 pushed up the ratio of unemployment to job vacancies to 2.9.
One year later, in the fourth quarter of 2021, the number of unemployed decreased by 513,900. As employers faced the challenges associated with mounting job vacancies, the pool of unemployed workers who could have filled vacant positions continued to dwindle, with further decreases in unemployment from October 2021 to March 2022. According to the Labour Force Survey (LFS), the unemployment rate dropped to a record low of 5.3 per cent in March 2022, then again to a new record low of 5.1 per cent in May 2022. As a result, the ratio of unemployment to job vacancies fell to 1.3 in the first quarter of 2022, less than half the level in the first quarter of 2021.
Due, in part, to a shrinking pool of unemployed workers, employers faced significant hiring challenges during the first quarter, when there were 33.6 newly hired employees for every 100 vacancies. In comparison, the ratio of new hires to vacancies was 47.8 in the first quarter of 2021 and 81.1 in the first quarter of 2016.
Consistent with these findings, recent results from the Canadian Survey on Business Conditions indicate that recruiting skilled employees is expected to be an obstacle for nearly two-fifths (38.5 per cent) of businesses, while retaining skilled employees was expected to be an obstacle for 30.4 per cent.
Faced with increasing vacancies and competition for a limited supply of workers, some employers are able to respond by raising the wages offered for vacant positions. Across all sectors, figures cited by Statistics Canada suggest that offered wages were up 2.5 per cent on a year-over-year basis in the first quarter. In comparison, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased by 5.8 per cent over the same period, and average hourly wages of all employees rose three per cent.
The construction sector was one of several market segments with notably high increases in offered wages from the first quarter of 2021 to the first quarter of 2022, rising 6.6 per cent to $27.50. On a year-over-year basis, the increase in average offered hourly wage matched or exceeded the CPI increase in 23 of the 40 broad national occupational classification groups.