07/05/2019 06:26 EDT

More Canadians Are Working Than Ever Before, But Job Quality Is Getting Worse

The share of prime working age Canadians with a job has hit an all time high, thanks to women.

VichienPetchmai via Getty Images

When it comes to jobs, Canada is the land of plenty ― just don’t look too closely at what those jobs are.

First, the good news: The share of “prime working age” Canadians with a job is the highest it’s ever been, according to an analysis of Statistics Canada data from job site Indeed.

In all, 83.5 per cent of Canadians aged 25 to 54 were employed in Canada in February of this year, the largest percentage in records going back to 1976.

Watch: The companies Canadian students really want to work for. Story continues below.

Analysts are increasingly looking at this age group, because the numbers for the overall workforce are being distorted by retiring Baby Boomers. So looking at the 25 to 54 group gives us a better idea of what’s happening with the actual labour force.

The increase in employment has been driven by women, whose employment rate has hit an all-time high of 80.3 per cent.

“That reflects a combination of the uptick in the economy … but also longer term trends (that are) going on,” said Brendon Bernard, chief economist at Indeed. 

A larger share of households are dual income, and “more women are looking to engage in full-time careers,” he noted.

Among men, the employment rate has finally returned to 87 per cent, the level last seen before the financial crisis a decade ago. But that rate is still below the all-time high for men ― 90 per cent ― back in the 1970s.

And in Alberta and Ontario, men’s employment rates are still below where they were before the last recession in 2008. Bernard says that’s due in part to the decline of Ontario’s manufacturing base, which was male-dominated, and the oil sector collapse, which hit male employment in Alberta.

The demand for high quality jobs is there. We just don’t have the people.Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist, CIBC

“Manufacturing is a much smaller share of the economy and labour market,” said Benjamin Tal, the deputy chief economist at CIBC World Markets. “(It) used to have high quality jobs. Those have been replaced by service industry jobs that are lower quality jobs.”

Tal issued a report this week showing that job quality in Canada ― as measured by wages ― is on the decline. Over the past year, jobs in low-paying industries grew very rapidly, while jobs in high-paying industries saw virtually no job growth.

This “reflects strong growth rates in relatively low-paying sectors such as food services, accommodation, personal services, administration and personal care as well as non-store retailing,” Tal wrote.

CIBC Economics

Tal points the finger at Canada’s ongoing labour shortage, which has been hitting new record highs over the past few years.

“We simply don’t have enough people to bring into high quality jobs,” he told HuffPost Canada. “The demand for high quality jobs is there. We just don’t have the people.”

Tal sees immigration as the short-term solution, but the longer-term solution has to involve reforming the education system, the economist asserted.

Canada may have the highest post-secondary graduation rate in the developed world, but “the education system is inconsistent with what the country needs,” Tal said.

The demand for workers isn’t necessarily where people think, Tal noted. While everyone’s aware of the demand for tech employees, fewer people know Canada has a shortage of skilled trade labourers.

“Try to find an electrician. Good luck,” Tal quipped.