Cool jobs in hot markets

Where to find work in a tight labour force.

The desperate tug of war for workers across Canada has employers peddling sky-high pay and perks in the face of what many believe is a looming labour crisis as the boomer generation retires. For job seekers, though, there couldn't be a better time to find a new job. Just look at the unemployment rate — 6.1% in February. “We're as low as you can go,” says Pedro Antunes, the director of national and provincial forecast at the Conference Board of Canada, a think-tank in Ottawa. But things should only get better in the short term. A quarter of Canadian employers are planning to increase their payrolls in the coming three months, says staffing firm Manpower Canada.

Yet for all that activity, output is lagging in this country. “In 2006, we saw labour productivity unfortunately only grow by 0.7%. It was quite weak,” says Antunes. Statistics Canada blames this on a combination of disruptions in the mining sector, a warm winter and the economy's reliance on less-skilled labour. Productivity will rebound at the expense of hiring, says Antunes, as wages increase and it becomes more viable for companies to invest in capital equipment rather than new employees.

Topping the want-ad listings for now, though, are salespeople, according to staffing firm Manpower Canada, followed by health-care professionals (nurses, doctors and support staff), financial staff (such as accountants), information technology professionals and construction workers.

Job hunters may be migrating west now, but every region has its needs, and some — such as the demand for oil and gas industry workers in the east — might just challenge preconceived notions of where the best jobs really are.

The West
Alberta's employment rate hit a record high of 71.6% in February, making it Canada's biggest draw for jobs. The province has the highest population growth at 10.6% (double the national average) and strong gains in GDP. But the breakneck oilsands boom slightly distorts the job market. “Megaprojects in the energy sector have created great growth in employment, but that will peak, and when we look to 2008, 2009 and 2010 we actually see it easing,” says Antunes. “You can't grow forever at 7%.” Still, anyone heading west today is almost guaranteed a job, “but finding somewhere to live is another thing,” warns Cheri Tredree, manager of national recruitment at Manpower Canada.

Alberta currently relies heavily on younger workers, and even European tradespeople to fill positions. Likewise, B.C. firms have been recruiting construction workers, welders and labourers from Europe. And the 2010 Olympics should only increase job openings — at least temporarily. “The Olympics are going to open up a lot of opportunity in service-related roles,” says Tredree. Wholesale and retail trade and finance experts, specifically accountants, are the hot jobs in Vancouver.

Saskatchewan is the dark horse of the west, and a sure long-term bet for jobs, with the biggest gains in real GDP per capita at 3.5%, compared with the national average of 1.7%. “Saskatchewan has all of the goodies all at once,” says Antunes. It's resource heavy with oil, natural gas, potash and uranium, and home to Cigar Lake, the largest uranium mine in the world.

The Centre
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. “Ontario used to be a province that attracted provincial migrants. Now, they are all going to Alberta and B.C.,” says Antunes. Indeed, almost 60,000 people every year are leaving Ontario for other provinces, with the dismal decline in manufacturing only propelling this exodus. Since the manufacturing peak in 2002?03, 200,000 jobs have been lost in Canada — almost half of them in Ontario. Yet a rebound is looming, especially if the Big Three automakers ever finish restructuring. In the meantime, the manufacturing slump is cancelling job gains in other sectors, skewing the job picture, especially in Ontario and Quebec. Recent gains in Quebec have come from construction, finance and services. And although the province had the weakest net employment outlook of 12%, Quebec saw revived foreign interest in aerospace and telecommunication products in 2006.

Make no mistake. Toronto and Montreal are still major job markets, and thousands of jobs in finance, trade and health care have been created in the past year. Nurses are in particular demand, as many continue to head to Alberta or the U.S. for better pay.

Service-sector gains in Quebec and Ontario also helped boost growth during the past year, but those jobs have mostly been part-time employment, which doesn't help the country's productivity statistics. Manitoba is rebounding as well, especially in Winnipeg, where almost 40% of employers are looking to hire in the next three months. In the past year, the hottest jobs in Winnipeg have overwhelmingly been in trade, health care and social assistance.

The East
For the coming quarter, 30% of employers are planning to hire in the eastern provinces to combat the mass migration of workers westward. The biggest demand is in the construction industry, where 70% of companies expect to be hiring. Other booming sectors in Atlantic Canada include transportation, public utilities, finance, insurance and real estate. Manufacturing is expected to rebound in this region with services and public administration also propelling growth.

Newfoundland and Labrador has the fastest-growing GDP in the country, at 5%, yet its unemployment rate still languishes in the double digits. The reason? Most of the gains have been in the resource sector, and they aren't expected to last past 2008. “The domestic economy in Newfoundland and Labrador is quite weak — the boom is really due to output,” says Antunes. “The construction is over, so a lot of the jobs are gone.”

The real hiring hotbed in the east is Moncton, N.B., where half of all employers plan to hire in the next three months. New Brunswick's unemployment rate hit a 31-year low in February, because of growth in natural gas exploration, making it a great place to look for work in the energy sector for now. The construction industry will lose jobs next year, however, as activities wind down at Irving Oil's natural gas plant.

The job market in Nova Scotia is also benefiting from a new extraction method for natural gas. Recent ads are calling professionals back to the province, especially for burgeoning life sciences and information technology jobs. With eastern prospects like these, it appears the west hasn't totally won.