As the Canadian economy recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a surge in job vacancies. By and large, these vacant positions required very little education.

In 2022, there was a quarterly average of 563,000 job vacancies that required a high-school diploma or less, up 70 per cent from the average in 2019, according to a new Statistics Canada report. Around six in 10 unfilled jobs asked for that level of education, a similar proportion as before the pandemic.

However, there was a notable shift in 2021 that persists to this day: There is more demand for these roles than unemployed people with lower levels of education.

The Canadian labour market is churning out thousands of positions by the month, which has driven unemployment to historically low rates and created plenty of opportunities for people who often struggle to find work.

In some cases, the leftover positions are unappealing. The Statscan report said the high volume of vacant jobs that required little education was likely owing to various factors, such as relatively low wage offers and undesirable hours.

It’s a different story for those with postsecondary education. Last year, there was a quarterly average of 117,000 positions that required a bachelor’s degree or higher – or less than half the volume of unemployed people with that level of education.

The report said that “employers’ difficulties to fill job vacancies requiring high levels of education cannot, in general, be attributed to a national shortage of highly educated job seekers or to local shortages of such job seekers.”

The situation is more complicated than that. Job vacancies may arise from a mismatch between the skills that employers want and those that job seekers possess, regardless of educational attainment.

Still, the Statscan findings “add an important nuance to discussions about the optimal strategies to use, if any, to alleviate the recruitment challenges faced by several employers in Canada,” the report said.

Citing a worker shortage, the federal government has increased employers’ access to low-wage labour through a variety of decisions, including an expansion of the Temporary Foreign Worker program last year. Some economists have criticized Ottawa for being too reactive to short-term changes in labour demand that could prove fleeting.

The Globe and Mail, May 26, 2023