By COLLIN GALLANT on July 10, 2021.
Unemployment levels continue to fall in Medicine Hat region, but employers and employment agencies say it’s a struggle to fill part-time and lower wage positions in the service industry.
Accommodation industry and retail stores are coming out of a winter of on-again, off-again restrictions for capacity, and restaurants closed entirely to in-person dining, though that ended July 1.
Local employment services and even Alberta’s finance minister claim the cause is the continuation of pandemic relief programs making work that pays $15 to $19 per hour unattractive.
“As we get past COVID we’re absolutely positioning the province for recovery and growth,” said provincial minister Travis Toews during a visit to Medicine Hat on Thursday.
However, he said, while the “hardest hit “services and accommodation” sectors begin to recover, he’s heard there are “structural labour shortages.”
“Some of the federal programs that were really important during the pandemic, such as CERB and enhanced EI – our message is that those programs have to ensure that participants are actively looking for work. That’s critical, that Albertans and Canadians reach out to land employment as that can, or that will affect the recovery.”
June’s local, provincial and national jobs picture was generally an improvement.
The unemployment rate in the Medicine Hat-Lethbridge economic region fell to 5.7 per cent in June, using a three-month moving average. That’s down from 9.8 per cent in the same month last year, and down from 7.3 per cent in May 2021.
The Alberta rate rose to 9.3 per cent, up six-tenths of a point, even though more people were employed as the labour pool grew as post secondary students began looking for work.
The local region posted the lowest rate in the province, which is consistent with what Luc Beriault, head of Positive Life Concepts, is seeing.
“At all our offices in all sectors, we’re running around with our heads cut off busy,” said Beriault, whose Hat-based career and recruitment firm has six locations in Western Canada. “People who come in with a good head on their shoulders and a good resume, and want to work, get work.”
He sees pandemic supports as leading to a misalignment right now between employers and jobs seekers, but the trajectory for the entire economy and jobs appears to be upward. It could resolve itself when COVID Emergency Benefits programs wind down, but not potentially before a federal election.
Even with the disconnect from the traditional jab market, Beriault said his firm has made a significant number of placements in a range of wage levels.
Another placement agency told the News that employers are trending to hire two part-time positions rather than a full-time position, making turnover less of an issue and containing costs.
“It’s interesting time to say the least,” said Jason Nelson, a career adviser with the YMCA’s employment centre in Medicine Hat. “We’re still getting back on track and the summer is traditionally a slower time with fewer people looking for work.
“We’re still seeing clients come in, but it’s a struggle to fill positions in retail, hotel, restaurant and bars. There’s lot out there.”
The trend toward part-time work was expressed in national figures, as well as increasing employment in services sector.
Nationally, the jobless rate fell to 7.8 per cent as the economy added 230,700 jobs in June to nearly regain those lost during third-wave spring restrictions.
The hiring in June was concentrated in part-time positions that rose by 263,900, bringing it basically back to pre-pandemic levels and driven by jumps in jobs in the hard-hit retail and food services sectors.
The 101,000 jobs increase in the accommodation and food services sector was the largest jump since last July, with Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia accounting for most of the increase. Ontario grew more slowly because of restrictions on indoor dining.
Nationally, full-time jobs fell by 33,200.
The part-time jobs boom left youth as the big winners in June as the demographic group gained 164,000 jobs, the largest one-month increase for them since last July. Statistics Canada also said the unemployment rate among returning students aged 20 to 24 was 11.5 per cent in June, edging closer to the pre-pandemic historical average.
Alberta’s rate of 9.3 per cent remained highest of any province outside the Maritimes in June. Saskatchewan’s rate was 6.7 per cent in June, up slightly from May.
The rate in Swift-Current-Moose Jaw moved to 6.8 per cent in June, down from 10.5 per cent one year earlier.