Scofield: Canada’s worker shortage has one big upside for employers

And employees:

The supertight job market that is bedevilling employers and the Bank of Canada alike has an upside: it has managed to do quickly what employment equity practices and public policy have struggled with for years.

It has drawn in racialized workers, new immigrants, young people, older workers and women in astounding numbers, making history along the way.

Whether that kind of inclusion can last, however, is an open question that will depend on employers and public-policy makers alike.

For one, the current pace of hiring is not likely to last.

In May, the unemployment rate hit a record low of 5.1 per cent, Statistics Canada reported on Friday. Employers created just 39,800 new positions over the course of a month — solid although nothing to write home about.

Still, from the start of the pandemic, the job market is now 497,000 positions larger than it was back then. In other words, after all of the ups and downs, closures and reopenings, illness and fear, that’s half a million more jobs than what we used to have, and it speaks to the resilience of the Canadian labour market.

That resilience has benefited a wide array of people who used to have a hard time getting a fair shake.

Let’s look at workers between the ages of 25 and 54 years old, to start. First Nations women in that age bracket have seen their unemployment rate plunge 9.3 percentage points over the past year to 7.3 per cent. Southeast Asian women have a 4.1 per cent unemployment rate, which is 6.3 percentage points lower than a year ago. Filipino men have a 3.4 per cent unemployment rate, down 4.7 points on the year.

Participation rates — how many people are actively working or looking for work — are also proof of significant progress for some key demographics. The participation rate is at a record high for women aged 25 to 54, at 85 per cent. That’s still lower than men of the same age (91.9 per cent), but after all of the troubles women had at the beginning of the pandemic, it’s remarkable.

The experience of newcomers to Canada is also eye-opening, says Brendon Bernard, senior economist at jobs website Indeed.com. He points out that immigrants who have been in Canada for five years or less are jumping into the job market in leaps and bounds, and they’re landing pretty good jobs.

Before the pandemic, their participation rate was 76.5 per cent. Now, it’s 84.3 per cent. And wage data shows they’re being hired into higher-income areas.

“One of Canada’s longest-standing labour market challenges has been the underemployment of newcomers. And there really has been a noticeable shift,” Bernard said in an interview.

Can it all last? Or will the pending slowdown in the Canadian economy make for “last hired, first fired” and erase the gains for demographics that have been struggling to catch up?

Jean-François Perrault, chief economist at Scotiabank, suggests it can actually last. For sure, hiring is set to slow down as the economy overheats and the central bank moves to cool it off by dramatically raising interest rates. But at the same time, Perrault points out there are about one million vacancies in the job market right now, and they’re not just going to evaporate with a slowing economy.

“There’s this huge backlog of jobs to fill,” he said. For companies hoping to just get by day to day, “these vacancies are massive, and they’re critical.”

He suspects even if the pace of hiring slows down over the next few months, vacancies will remain high. So employers are deeply concerned about long-standing labour shortages and they’ll hang on to their workers for as long as they can. It’s just too hard to ramp back up.

For politicians, this means they can’t really afford to let up on their policy attempts to draw more people into the workforce, even if the job numbers soften.

Even if there’s a downturn, the long-standing trend toward an aging population means Canada will need to encourage older workers and women to join the workforce in greater numbers over the next few years.

Ottawa’s $30-billion child care strategy was supposed to dramatically increase women’s participation in the workforce, but it has been slow to fully gear up. The returns, in terms of labour participation, are likely still years away.

And the federal Liberals are unlikely to reverse their dedication to retiring at 65 to encourage older workers to stay in the workforce longer.

But if employers and policy-makers are wise, they’ll take a look at what the tight job market has accomplished for them, appreciate what the gains to inclusivity have done for their workforce, and then lock them in.

The next slowdown doesn’t have to set us back.

Source: Canada’s worker shortage has one big upside for employers

We can’t have Indigenous reconciliation without closing the employment gap

Good piece:

There’s a fine line between patient, incremental progress and leaning on a lethargic, long-term plan as an excuse for inaction, especially when it comes to grappling with the legacy of the residential school system.

Glenn Nolan is on the right side of that line.

He is the vice-president of government affairs for Noront Resources Ltd., and a member of the Missanabie Cree First Nation with a reputation in the mining world as an executive who knows how to bring Indigenous communities and economic development together.

His grandparents were both residential school survivors. In Nolan’s words, they were self-destructive, alcoholic and neglected their children. His grandfather told his father about seeing a youngster beaten unconscious in front of the class when he was in grade 4. The child was never heard from again; the teacher was simply transferred.

For the next generation, life was difficult, but not as difficult. His father was angry but quit drinking in his 30s. Nolan became the first in his family to get a post-secondary education. And he can hardly believe his luck these days at being able to spend the pandemic in his long-time home by the lake near Atikokan, Ont.

“It affected all of us,” Nolan says, reflecting on the generations since the residential school experience snaked through his family history. “But the valleys aren’t as deep, and the climb up out of it wasn’t as steep. So we’ve actually been very successful.”

At a society-wide level, however, progress in vanquishing the economic fallout of residential schools — poverty and inequality — is harder to see.

Statistics Canada published data in April that drew from the 2016 census, and its numbers are harsh. About 76 per cent of non-Indigenous working-age people were employed in 2016, the same as in 2006, the report shows. But for First Nations people living on reserve, the employment rate was just 47 per cent in 2016, which was actually a decline from the 50 per cent noted in 2006. The situation was slightly better for First Nations people living off reserve, with 60 per cent employed — compared to 62 per cent a decade earlier.

So, a huge gap, and getting wider.

As for the unemployment rate, it was 23 per cent on reserve in 2016 and 14 per cent off reserve, compared to just six per cent for the non-Indigenous population.

Income rose for everyone between 2006 and 2016, but the gap between non-Indigenous and First Nations people remains enormous. The median employment income for a non-Indigenous person was $34,000 in 2016 — double that of a First Nations person.

Similarly, poverty rates have declined for everyone over the decade, but the gap is outrageous. About 48 per cent of people on reserve were considered to be low income, compared to 14 per cent of non-Indigenous people.

There’s some hope in education. The gap is huge, but it’s getting narrower.

A 2019 report by the National Indigenous Economic Development Board compiled a whole range of pertinent indicators to assess progress over time, and found that “in general, outcomes for Indigenous peoples in Canada are improving and some gaps are decreasing, but to varying and sometimes small degrees.”

Right now, though, we have a pivotal moment.

The public is mortified by the discovery of the remains of 215 undocumented children by the Kamloops Indian Residential School, and the painful realization that there may well be thousands and thousands more bodies out there.

The calls from politicians, Indigenous leaders and people across the country to take urgent action, mitigate the harmful generational effects of residential schools and seek justice for the missing children are loud and clear.

At the same time, we have a federal government that proposes an aggressive attempt to rebuild the post-pandemic economy in a more just way, investing for inclusive growth that will not just repair the damage of the pandemic recession but also addresses the glaring inequities of the past.

And we have a private sector that anticipates labour shortages in the near future.

It’s a moment where federal policy and fiscal power could turn incremental, or sometimes invisible, progress into something more meaningful.

Yes, there were measures in the spring budget — $140 million for lending to small Indigenous businesses as well as $1 billion to ramp up rural broadband services.

And the federal government already supports numerous training, community and employment initiatives, Nolan points out.

The Indigenous economic development board has done some thorough research on economic reconciliation, and points to a few key areas where governments could do more and make an outsized difference in enabling Indigenous communities to develop their own strengths: beefing up procurement practices, improving access to capital, expanding education and training opportunities, and enabling Indigenous stakes in natural resource development. 

These are all practical suggestions that have the added benefit of ramping up existing support systems and encouraging local initiative — scaffolding, rather than starting from the ground up.

Nolan warns about moving too fast, when well-meaning help for economic development that doesn’t come with proper supports only sets up communities to fail.

“When you build a business, you can’t be the CEO of a multibillion-dollar company right away,” he says. “Businesses fail unless they have all the parameters in place.”

And that’s where the fine line is — finding that place between a lethargic status quo and patient progress that will, one day, take us all closer to reconciling with the past.

Source: https://www.thestar.com/politics/political-opinion/2021/06/01/we-cant-have-indigenous-reconciliation-without-closing-the-employment-the-gap.html

Heather Scoffield: Waiting for COVID-19 vaccinations is no way to help jobless Canadians

Good overview with some breakdowns by visible minority groups and women:

It was never going to be “happy Friday” with new unemployment numbers for January on deck, but there were plenty of signs it was going to at least be “silver-lining Friday.”

Alas, it’s neither of those. The labour market in January was the bleak mid-winter we feared, especially if you’re young, or a person of colour, or female, or a part-timer — or, God forbid, all of those at once. And policy-makers seem poorly equipped to do much about it for now, except to counsel patience.

About 213,000 jobs disappeared in January as some of most populated areas in Canada — namely Ontario and Quebec — tightened up pandemic restrictions. It means that the second wave is taking a serious toll, eroding the employment gains of the summer and fall and making a quick recovery more elusive.

At our worst point last April, when a firm lockdown was in place, about 5.5 million people were without work or dealing with reduced hours because of the pandemic. Summer allowed many people to return to work or find new jobs, but we’ve lost ground in December and January. And now, there are still 1.4 million affected workers, many of them in the same groups of people who were hit by the first wave.

Canada’s unemployment rate rose to 9.4 per cent in January, up from 8.8 per cent in December.

Digging a bit deeper, Southeast Asians saw their unemployment rate rise by 7.6 percentage points in January to 20.1 per cent — one in five. Black Canadians are at 16.4 per cent unemployment, up 5.5 percentage points from a month earlier.

Of Black women who are holding onto their jobs, almost a third were working in the health-care sector, and a third of those were in low-paid positions such as orderlies or nurses’ aides. In other words, they are holding onto pandemic employment by taking on poorly paid and often dangerous positions.

Unemployment among young people rose 1.9 percentage points to 19.7 per cent, and the job losses were particularly striking among part-timers and working-age teenagers.

Women lost twice as many jobs as men in January, especially mothers of young children.

We’ve been here before. The first wave showed us the same disturbing patterns, as the pandemic restraints shut down businesses involved in accommodation, tourism, travel, arts and culture, and food services.

But there were some signs that maybe the second wave would be kinder, and that employers were learning how to roll with lockdowns and constantly changing constraints. More than 5.4 million people are working from home, the highest number ever. High-income jobs have stayed protected. Capital markets are surging, creating a wealth effect. Housing prices are up. Commodity prices are up. And the federal government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars trying to keep the economy afloat. Job postings, according to Indeed Canada, are looking a lot like they did a year ago, before the pandemic.

But solutions for workers in public-facing industries are few and far between.

“To state the obvious, we didn’t figure it out,” said Leah Nord, senior director of workforce strategies and inclusive growth at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

The Conservatives called the job losses “devastating,” and Leader Erin O’Toole committed to “charting a new course” that sees Canadians put to work by “reshoring” the manufacturing of our own essential goods, rather than importing them from China.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the jobs report was “difficult” and, urging patience, pointed to all the income and business supports the federal government has provided to tide people over.

“We are there to support Canadians and we will continue to be until get through this, with income supports, with vaccines, with health measures, with the supports that people need,” he said.

But actual jobs while we continue to wait for the pandemic to be conquered? Not so much.

Business groups are pushing for the widespread adoption of rapid testing and contact tracing, so that public-facing firms can open up safely and bring their workforces back.

“We need to keep Canadians safe and working,” Nord says.

There’s no doubt that’s easier said than done. Contact tracing becomes cumbersome when case levels are high. And rapid tests can be clumsy and imprecise, leaving many provinces reluctant to deploy them widely. Nord also suggests more aggressive efforts to match job-seekers with job vacancies, and intense retraining programs for long-term unemployed people.

It’s clear that full-fledged recovery efforts can’t start until the pandemic is under control, and that’s certainly not imminent. In the meantime, we owe it to those same groups of unemployed people who are repeatedly pummelled by the pandemic to brainstorm some better answers.

Biding our time in the face of on-again-off-again vaccination schedules and new variants is not an answer.

Source: Heather Scoffield: Waiting for COVID-19 vaccinations is no way to help jobless Canadians

Scoffield: Donald Trump’s policies helped Canada attract talented and diverse immigrants. Now it’s up to us

Good column, reminding us that immigration is about more than just economics and economic advantages and the challenges of a more welcoming approach to immigration in the USA compared to the previous administration:

This is a story about post-Trump immigration policy, Canada’s competitive advantage, diversity and the workforce of the future.

Nazanin Khazra, a young economics professor at the University of Toronto, is a precious commodity when seen through all those lenses.

But the bottom line is this: she has not seen her mother since the summer of 2016.

Khazra, 33, grew up in Tehran and moved to the United States to do postgraduate studies at the University of Illinois. But when Donald Trump became president in January 2017, one of his first acts was to shut down travel from Muslim-dominated countries including Iran.

It meant that Khazra really couldn’t go home for a visit without giving up her studies and moving back there for good. It also meant that her mother and her sisters couldn’t come to see her.

“It was a choice between family and the PhD I worked for, for 10 to 15 years,” she says.

She stuck it out and got her degree last year, but didn’t see her family the whole time Trump was in office. When the job offers came in, she had her pick of top universities in the United States. She chose the University of Toronto instead and moved there in time for the 2020-21 school year, on a five-year track to tenure.

She still hasn’t seen her mother but now it’s because of the pandemic, not the U.S. president. As soon as it’s safe to travel, she’ll finally be able to visit her mom. Then she’ll return to her adoptive home, where she fully intends to stay.

It’s an iconic success story for Canada’s immigration policy — an intelligent young woman of colour brightening the ranks of Canada’s economists and sticking around for the long run. Recruiters and government strategies that target highly skilled immigrants worked together to attract some of the best talent from around the world — and in particular, the United States under Trump. Canada’s employers and Canada’s economy all gain, and we are that much richer for the experience.

But for Khazra, it’s also a tragic story of human rights gone awry. And she is sharing her story so that point won’t be forgotten in our zeal to bring in the crème de la crème for the sake of the Canadian economy.

The election of Joe Biden, with his more open immigration policies, means Canada will once again face impossibly stiff competition for highly skilled workers, with warnings that the U.S.’s gains in immigration will be Canada’s losses. Khazra is worried we will treat immigration primarily as an economic variable — and not a facet of human rights, fairness and respect for people.

It’s a mistake, she says, to focus on how much Canada’s economy will be damaged by Biden’s quick removal of the Muslim ban and his embrace of immigration. She bristles when she hears that question in Canada, comparing it to asking whether the U.S. economy was hurt by the end of slavery.

The negative effect on the economy, she says, “is just a side factor.”

Instead, she turns the question on its head.

“The way that this question should be asked is the following: Does Canada’s clear and fair immigration policy have a positive effect on its economy? 

“And the answer is yes, because you have a higher diversity compared to other countries. You have a clear and fair immigration policy which is based on points and based on skills and talent and experience, and your economy is benefiting from basically absorbing this talent.”

Her insight speaks to the ongoing debate about how beneficial immigration is to the Canadian economy, and how much immigration is needed to keep economic growth on an even keel. While some experts and policy-makers argue that immigration fuels growth and we need lots more of it to enhance our prosperity, others argue that our standard of living can only be improved if we bring in top economic performers.

That debate loses sight of the fact that immigration shapes our culture, and diversity brings us immeasurable richness, says Mikal Skuterud, an economics professor at the University of Waterloo.

While Skuterud is fully engaged in measuring and debating how immigration boosts growth (or doesn’t), he agrees with Khazra that immigration needs to be evaluated and shaped by criteria that go well beyond the economy.

“Why do we always have to make the argument that it’s beneficial for us economically? It’s much bigger than dollars and cents,” he says.

And, as Khazra says, in the end, that kind of broader appreciation of who is making their home in Canada can’t help but boost our well-being over time.

“You’re basically doing both. You’re respecting human rights and your economy is benefiting from having all these high-skilled workers.”

Source: https://www.thestar.com/politics/political-opinion/2021/01/31/donald-trumps-policies-helped-canada-attract-talented-and-diverse-immigrants-now-its-up-to-us.html

Heather Scoffield: Hey, election-weary Americans, Canada would love to take you in

Valid approach to target foreign nationals currently working or studying in the USA:

In the difficult, bewildering days right after Donald Trump won the presidential election in 2016, then-vice-president Joe Biden made a quick trip to snowy Ottawa for a state dinner.

It’s worth remembering what he told Canadian leaders at the time: Canadians and Americans are deeply united in their values, Biden said, especially “the abhorrence of the abuse of power, whether it’s physical, economic or political, as well as the notion that every person deserves to be treated with dignity.

“It’s about dignity.”

The words were probably meant to console Canadians as much as to console himself at the turn of events and the coarsening of politics that a Trump victory would surely herald.

Fast-forward four years, and the day after the 2020 election was equally bewildering for many Canadians who could not digest the fact that, regardless of who the eventual president is, about half of American voters chose Trump for a second time.

But when we’re done reeling over the stark, pervasive divisions within the American electorate and move on to grappling with what next, perhaps we can put our own appreciation of dignity to good use, and make it work to our advantage — through immigration.

Just last week, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino set out a very ambitious plan for Canada: to boost immigration to never-seen-before levels and pull the country’s economic growth out of its funk.

“We are at a unique juncture in Canadian history. We are facing the challenge of our generation, and we will meet our moment,” Mendicino said. “Before the pandemic, our government’s goal to drive the economy forward through immigration was ambitious. Now, it is simply vital.”

Canada will aim to bring in 1.2 million new immigrants over the next three years, partly to make up for lost ground during the pandemic but also raising the target substantially from previous plans. Instead of 351,000 people targeted for 2021, Ottawa is now aiming for 401,000. Instead of 361,000 in 2022, Ottawa hopes for 411,000.

For sure, there are many reasons to increase immigration. Family reunification and a safe haven for refugees are what dignified, decent countries do. But since the federal government’s overriding goal is to boost the economy, it’s time to take a strategic look at the U.S. landscape.

Of course, the move-to-Canada idea was all the rage after the 2016 election, and especially after Trump kicked off his term in power by cracking down on immigrants from specific countries — a move that prompted Justin Trudeau to famously tweet #WelcomeToCanada because “diversity is our strength.”

The Canadian dream bubbled up again on Wednesday in the media and on social media.

But initial efforts over the past few years to recruit large numbers of skilled immigrants from the ranks of disaffected Democrats didn’t really materialize.

We have a second chance this time around and can take steps, and have money, to make it happen.

“There is an opportunity there,” says Mikal Skuterud, an economics professor at the University of Waterloo who specializes in immigration and labour.

Not all immigration automatically boosts Canada’s pace of growth, which is why Mendicino is putting more weight on the economic class of immigration than on family reunification and refugees. The hope is that by attracting skilled workers from other countries, Canada can expand the population of entrepreneurs, consumers, taxpayers, homebuyers, hard workers and wealth contributors in our economy.

People educated in the United States come with easily recognized credentials and are a quick fit into Canada’s labour market.

“If you want to leverage immigration for economic growth, you have to look at talent,” Skuterud says.

But Canada has long had stiff competition from the Americans next door in attracting those people, he adds, pointing to research that shows skilled immigrants to the United States prospering while those with a similar profile in Canada have struggled with lower wages.

Canada’s best bet to attract highly-skilled immigrants from the United States is to look there for foreigners and migrants, especially students and recent graduates, since they’re usually more mobile than the rest of the population, says Skuterud.

If Canada is to bolster growth over the long term, not just to recuperate from the pandemic but also to improve our standard of living and our ability to care for the most vulnerable in our society, we will need to make some bold, strategic moves to make our mark.

So much of Canada’s policy and recovery from the pandemic is in slow motion right now, waiting to see where Washington lands and how the U.S. political dynamic washes over the border.

Immigration is one area where we have already dared to stick our neck out and go our own way, at least in the targets and the rhetoric that comes from our political leaders. Dignity looks like a selling point these days.

Source: Heather Scoffield: Hey, election-weary Americans, Canada would love to take you in