Employment gains over past year pushes BC workforce above pre-pandemic levels

By Aaron Aerts
Oct 25, 2021
Photo credit: FG Trade/E+

In our podcast episode, CPABC's economist, Aaron Aerts, reviews with Vivian Tse, communications manager, the findings from CPABC’s latest BC Check-Up: Work report. Part of our Coffee Chats with CPABC podcast series.

According to CPABC's latest BC Check-Up: Work report, BC’s workforce has slightly exceeded pre-pandemic levels, according to recent data that shows provincial employment up by 28,200 jobs this September when compared to September 2019. However, the net gain in jobs lags considerably behind population growth as the province added 107,000 working-aged residents since September 2019.

Between September 2021 and September 2020, BC’s employment increased in nine out of 12 months for a net annual gain of over 153,000 positions. Throughout the pandemic, part-time positions have led the employment recovery, coming back from the steepest job declines in history, where nearly a third of pre-pandemic part-time positions had been eliminated by June 2020. As part of a strong recovery, part-time jobs were up by 9.1% this September compared to September 2019. Full-time positions have also seen consistent growth, but remain slightly below the September 2019 level.

BC unemployment rate remains high, women disproportionately displaced

BC’s unemployment rate was 5.9% in September 2021, down from 8.6% in September 2020, but above the 4.9% rate in September 2019. While the female unemployment rate of 6.0% is only slightly higher than the male rate of 5.9%, the female labour participation rate has also notably declined during the pandemic.

In September 2021, the female labour participation rate was 61.3%, meaning approximately six in every 10 women aged 15 and older were employed or actively seeking employment, down 0.4 percentage points from September 2019. This compares to a 69.4% participation rate for men in BC, the same rate as in September 2019.

Further, even after the strong employment gains over the past year, full-time positions held by females in September 2021 were 2.9% lower compared to September 2019, and the total number of hours worked by females was down by 2.0%. In contrast, the number of full-time positions worked by men was up by 0.4% over the same period.

The decrease in participation rate and hours worked by females in the province is also one reason why businesses have faced a growing challenge to find employees in 2021.

Service sector leading recovery, though large industry differences remain

The service sector workforce grew by 7.3% to 2.2 million jobs in September 2021 compared to September 2020. Employment expanded in all service industries over the past year, led by gains in public administration (+18.6%), professional, scientific and technical services (+10.8%), and health care (+10.7%).

Despite gains in every service industry over the past year, the workforce in several customer-facing industries remain well below pre-pandemic levels. In September 2021, employment had declined in other services such as personal by 10.1%, hospitality by 8.1%, and business services by 3.8% compared to September 2019.

Meanwhile, employment in the goods sector increased by 0.6% to 485,600 positions this September year over year. This increase was offset by a decline in agriculture (-28.5%) and utility (-30.5%) employment, while employment gains in the manufacturing (+3.8%) and natural resource (20.3%) industries boosted the goods sector workforce. Despite a small gain over the past year, BC’s construction workforce was down by 11.5% compared to September 2019.

Economic outlook bright, but labour shortage a growing challenge

To better understand the BC economic landscape, CPABC surveyed its members for their views in the recent CPABC BC Check-up: Work report. Overall, CPAs, who are on the front lines of business in BC and see the opportunities and challenges firsthand, are optimistic about BC’s economy. When asked about the overall state of the provincial economy, 77% of those surveyed believe it was in “average” or “good” shape in 2021, up by 21 percentage points from 2020.

However, one area that continues to be growing area of concern is the shortage of labour in the province. Nearly four-fifths (78%) identified the ability to attract and retain labour as a major challenge to business success in BC.

Given these challenges, it will be important to ensure that there is are efforts to increase skills training to help those individuals who are unable to find work, with a particular focus on industries facing the greatest scarcity of labour.

Read the full report: BC Check-Up: Work 

Aaron Aerts is CPABC's economist.