What disruptions are affecting the labour market? Which skills and competencies are required for new and evolving jobs? How can people and institutions adapt to the future of work and learning? Through this monthly brief, keep on top of developments in the workforce and how education and training are changing today to build the skills and competencies needed for the future. Priority will go to stories focused on Western Canada. If you know of something relevant and want to send for inclusion in the next brief, email .

Unemployment still high though jobs are coming back

Reuters reports that according to staffing agencies, it is a “sellers market” for skilled and unskilled Canadians. Many companies have increased wages to fill vacant positions and retain existing staff, a move that is expected to add to already high inflation. Other methods such as signing bonuses and premiums based on attendance and retention may not register as wage increases but will contribute to inflation.  

A new report released by BDO Debt Solutions indicates that not only is Canada’s wealth gap widening but the income gap as well. While the labour market returned to pre-pandemic levels in September, the recovery is primarily in the public sector. Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist at CIBC World Markets Inc., notes that despite an increase of available positions, young Canadians are not surging into the market. Tal says those older workers who left the market are unlikely to return. 

According to the Business Development Bank of Canada’s chief economist, vaccination against COVID-19 and a thriving construction industry have supported economic recovery in the Northwest Territories. “There are actually more jobs today than before the pandemic,” said Pierre Cléroux. There were over 23,000 jobs in September, more than in February 2020. “At 4.5 per cent, it’s [unemployment] the lowest in the country, much lower than the Canadian average (of 6.9 per cent),” Cléroux said. 

The Yukon experienced a loss of 1,100 workers between January 2020 and August 2021. A disproportionate number of those who left are women, but the reasons why are not yet fully understood.  

British Columbia, where the unemployment rate has dropped below six per cent and 12,300 jobs were added to the labour market in September, leads the job recovery rate for the country,. However, Jock Finlayson, the Business Council of B.C.’s senior adviser, says employment has not fully recovered in parts of the service industry and many small businesses continue to struggle and may be at risk.  

Saskatchewan’s unemployment rate, at 6.3 per cent, has fallen below the national average of 6.9 per cent. The Yorkton-Melville economic region has the lowest unemployment rate in the province at 4.2 percent. Net jobs increased by 5,300 from August to September with the vast majority in part-time jobs, though less than ten per cent of the added jobs full-time. As many subsectors continue to see an increase in jobs, accommodation and food services saw a slight decrease. Meanwhile, the unemployment rates in the Saskatoon-Biggar and Swift Current-Moose Jaw economic regions are still above the national average at 7.7 and 8.1 per cent, respectively. 

Hiring choices need to shift

October was National Disability Employment Awareness Month. With a surge of jobs opening around the nation, many agencies have highlighted that those who experience disabilities who are underrepresented in the workforce. 

A Manitoba disability group and Manitoba Chambers of Commerce have joined efforts to advocate for the 170,000 Manitobans who live with disabilities, many of whom are looking to enter the workforce. These organizations say employers need to take advantage of these many skilled and qualified individuals that make up 14 per cent of the province’s population.

Jayda Watson, Program Manager at SaskAbilities, says this month is an opportunity for employers to think about how they can contribute to a representative workforce “We know that there are more than 5.3 million Canadians living with some form of disability and that we have an untapped workforce of all abilities right here in Swift Current and southwest Saskatchewan. Partners in Employment supports over 1,200 job seekers each year in meaningful and sustainable employment.” 

Government initiatives to support, attract, and retain talent and jobs

All eyes are on the federal government as the major federal COVID-19 economic supports for workers and business come to an end. The government has announced more targeted supports for areas where lockdowns are implemented. Businesses in lockdown areas will be eligible for rent and wage subsidies at the current levels until March 13, 2022, and then subsidies will be halved until May 7 when the program ends. Workers will be eligible for $300 per week, until May 7, if subject to lockdown measures and the benefit will extend to people who are ineligible for employment insurance (EI).  

The Government of the Northwest Territories has announced its own wage grant for employers to support the retention and attraction of staff. The Labour Market Recovery Wage Grant will support businesses who have had both gathering size restrictions put in place after August 1, 2021, and revenue losses.  

To attract and retain families, the council for Forestburg, a village in Alberta, has approved a scholarship for students who attend Forestburg school. For each year at the school, the student will receive $1,000 towards post-secondary studies. A student could receive up to $12,000 upon completion of Grade 12.  

Diversity and inclusion in tech investment

As the technology sector continues to advance, two Alberta-based programs aim to make investment funds available to Black founders and women. The Black Seed Accelerator is an initiative of Edmonton-based Black Business Ventures Association. The program is meant to connect investors and “underrepresented Black tech founders” as “only 2.6 per cent of the tech workforce in Canada are Black (Brookfield Institute: 2019).” 

Calgary-based The51 is specifically focused on increasing women’s investment and entrepreneurship in ag-tech. From The Canadian Press article on the initiative“[T]he51’s first $9-million, sector-agnostic fund closed earlier this year, with 90 per cent of the investment dollars coming from private women’s capital.” The article also points to the increased role for women in the sector “nearly one in three farm operators between the ages of 35 and 54 are women. And in the Agri-food technology space, female entrepreneurs are working on everything from the way food is grown and harvested, to the development of plant-based proteins, to blockchain and traceability innovations.” 

Digital solutions for the future of energy and agriculture

Pea-protein processing is one area in which tech has grown and farmers in Western Canada are set to reap the benefits. Roquette recently opened a $600 million dollar facility in Portage la Prairie which is expected to begin full production in early 2022. The proprietary technology in the facility is reportedly very advanced but the company does not allow photos or videos. However, the facility is expected to process “125,000 metric tonnes of organic and conventional yellow peas […] from growers across Western Canada each year.” 

Despite the potential of ag-tech, a recent Angus Reid poll found that the average Canadian is not aware of the opportunity. “12 per cent of Canadians see agriculture as more innovative than other industries, and 37 per cent say they don’t know how the use of technology in agriculture compares to other Canadian industries, with 14 per cent believing the use of technology is less advanced than in other Canadian Industries.” 

Alberta Innovates’ Digital Innovation in Clean Energy (DICE) program has a new funding round for up to $350,000 per project. Funded projects should work to develop “artificial intelligence, machine learning, industrial internet of things, augmented reality, and unmanned aerial vehicle technologies for use in Canada’s energy industry.”  

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