Job market optimism from job market experts

The 2015 job posting numbers are in, and Regional Manager of Community & Labour Market Services with North Island Employment Foundations Society (NIEFS) Shannon Baikie says while they were down slightly overall, there is reason to be “cautiously optimistic” for 2016.

“Overall, I’d say the numbers are lower, but not significantly so,” Baikie says, adding that’s because the economy is balancing itself. “We went through a recession and into a bit of a boom, where there were more jobs being posted, and now it’s sort of flattened out and it’s a little more balanced in terms of a regional economy.”

One reason for the lower levels of overall job activity, Baikie says, is the completion of a few major building projects and the filling of many positions on others.

“Comfort Inn and the Berwick are complete, so I think that’s where we see the change in some of those numbers, but where some of the optimism comes in is in what we’re seeing not only here but throughout Canada – through our tourism sector.”

Tourism is traditionally one of our regions’ biggest economic drivers.

That has remained the case in recent years, and Baikie says the current state of the Canadian dollar should only increase that facet of our economy.

Val Meaney, executive director of NIEFS, agrees.

“With our dollar being low relative to the American dollar, it also means many people will stay home for vacation as opposed to going to an American destination. I think the ski resorts will see the impact of that – they’ll see a greater influx of American tourists this year for their season – and I think for the summer tourism season, you’ll see the combination of more American tourists coming this way and more of our local people travelling within the province and within the country.”

As always, NIEFS is expecting a major hiring spike in the spring, when employers like Oak Bay Marine Group – which currently owns and operates Painters Lodge and April Point, though they are reportedly up for sale – do their hiring for the season, along with other tourism-based operators and businesses.

Another reason for Baikie’s optimism is that they are seeing more full-time positions being posted these days than at other times in the recent past.

NIEFS tracks full-time, part-time, seasonal, casual, and contract postings, and Baikie says it’s the full-time/part-time ratio that they particularly keep their eye on.

“In general terms, if you have more full-time positions available, it tends to be a healthier economy,” she says.

“For instance, during the recession, our full-time numbers were at about 35 per cent, so the fact that we’re sitting at 53 per cent full-time for last year – that’s a pretty good indicator that there’s employment, it’s full-time, and it’s working for people. If we see a shift to, all of a sudden a position where there’s 58 per cent (of job postings) that are part-time, then you’re running into the situation where people can’t sustain full-time employment even if they want to. That tends to be an indicator that an economy isn’t as strong.”

What’s missing from the information they can gather, she says, is how many people are looking for employment, and how many have simply given up.

“This is not a perfect science,” she admits, “but (the statistics we gather) do a fairly good job of giving us a tool that is local and compare it to regional, provincial and national data,” she says, as well as being able to watch and compare labour market information for specific time frames to see trends.

Another key factor the information doesn’t provide or track is what the jobs available actually pay.

“That’s always what economists pick up and say, ‘that’s really nice that there are all these full-time jobs being available, but they’re low-paying, service-based jobs when what we’ve lost is high-paying industry jobs,’” Baikie says, which is why they also track the industries those job postings are in.

Tourism, forestry and construction/trades are the top three industries posting jobs in and around Campbell River last year, which Baikie says is a good thing.

If they were seeing three sectors at the top that are traditionally lower-paying, Baikie says, there would be more to worry about.

But despite the lower numbers, overall, and the fact that not every factor can be taken into account, Baikie says another reason for her “cautious optimism” is that as we move deeper into 2016, the two major building projects – the new hospital and the John Hart generating station – “are moving into their peak employment and therefore peak hiring this coming summer.”

Baikie says NIEFS is working with Graham Construction – one of the major sub-contractors on the hospital project – to create a hiring timeline through the end of the project and find out what jobs will be available, and when, along with what the skills and qualifications will be required and how they are going to want people to apply for those positions.

They will then be able to share that information with other organizations – such as the Industry Training Association, North Island College, the North Vancouver Island Aboriginal Training Society and others – and better prepare for when specific skill sets are needed on that project.