2018 saw Canada’s lowest unemployment rate in 40 years

If you felt the Canadian job market was tight in 2018, you felt right. The numbers are in, and last year saw the lowest unemployment rate in 40 years – a record 5.6%.

The majority of new jobs appeared in service industries such as health care, transportation and, yes, educational services, which had an increase in 33,000 jobs or 2.6% growth across the country. Most of these gains were made in full-time employment (as opposed to part-time work), with 185,000 new full-time jobs.

But while 2018 might have witnessed a historic low in unemployment, it also saw the job growth rate slow down, at 0.9% growth compared to 2017 (2.3%) and 2016 (1.2%). And, naturally in a country as large and diverse as Canada, there was a huge difference in unemployment in each province and territory. British Columbia and the Yukon had the lowest rates at 4.4% and 4.0% respectively. At the other end of the scale, Newfoundland and Labrador had 11.7% unemployment and Nunavut had the highest unemployment rate at 15%.

Across the border, the US experienced a similarly record-breaking year, with a 49-year low of 3.7% unemployment in November 2018. There are however, several factors that mitigate the impressiveness of these numbers. The unemployment rate in both countries only measures those who are actively looking for work. This doesn’t include people who have stopped looking, so the numbers of those who are actually unable to find a job are undoubtedly higher.

But 2018 was still a challenging year for recruitment, including the education sector. Positions in rural schools and urban areas with high housing costs, and specialized teaching roles like French Immersion were particularly difficult to fill.

British Columbia represented one of the most challenging regions. The initiation of class size restrictions and student-teacher ratios in 2017 led to the creation of thousands of new teaching positions. Combined with the lowest provincial unemployment rate and the housing crisis in the lower mainland, and it has been extremely difficult for schools in BC to hire the necessary amount of teachers. Last year saw some school districts employing non-certified teachers to fill spots on a temporary basis.

In a list of 17 recommendations published last October, the British Columbia Teacher’s Federation suggested, “That the Ministry of Education provide dedicated funding for teacher recruitment and retention initiatives across all school districts.” They also recommended relief to teachers in districts with high housing costs, through the development of teacher housing and/or housing allowances.

With a tough year behind us, HR managers and recruiters across Canada have their work cut out for them as the 2019 hiring season begins. Employers will have to continue improving their hiring processes and exploring new recruiting/retention strategies if they want to compete for the limited pool of candidates.