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Employment Outlook: Canada

by Mary Anne Thompson

Steady and sure, Canada moves into 2017 with a growing economy, investment in the future and plans to quell a skills shortage.

By Mary Ann Thompson, founder and president, GoinGlobal, Inc.

Wealthy, high-tech Canada boasts plentiful natural resources and a highly skilled work force. The country’s unemployment rate stands at a respectable 7 percent, with British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario having the lowest rates. While the Great Recession did not spare Canada, its conservative fiscal practices protected the economy from the worst of it, and despite a recent sustained drop in oil prices, Canada’s economy has managed to grow slightly since 2010. In recent years, Canada’s labor market has outperformed those of other G7 countries, including France, Germany and the UK. Though there has been some uncertainty in the vast oil sector and investment decline in the energy sector over the last year, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) forecasts economic growth in 2017.


Canada has the highest immigration rate among G7 countries. Skilled immigrant workers account for almost 22 percent of Canada’s working-age population, a figure predicted to rise. Canada has also welcomed about 34,000 Syrian refugees over the past year, and will continue to do so through both government-supported and private sponsorships.

Canada’s new immigration system, Express Entry (English and French), expedites the process of bringing in foreign workers with skills in short supply in Canada. Jobseekers fill out an online form that then matches them with available job openings.

Short Term Outlook

Canada’s workforce has been shifting to performing highly skilled work in recent decades; over the past 30 years, workers with post-secondary education have had access to the most work opportunities, a trend that is expected to continue, and 75 percent of jobs over the next decade will likely require post-secondary education. Skilled trades have shown solid growth since 2000, with job vacancies above pre-recession levels.

Among G7 countries, Canada has shown one of the best economic performances since the crisis, and GDP has increased more in Canada than in any other G7 country since 2009. There are also more Canadians employed in full-time, high-wage, private sector positions since 2009.

Long Term Outlook

The recently elected Liberal government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is running a short-term deficit in order to invest heavily in infrastructure, particularly transit, green infrastructure and social infrastructure (including hospitals, educational institutions and social housing), and to reduce taxes for the middle class, measures that should give an additional boost to the economy.

Business confidence is starting to perk up after a difficult couple of years, and businesses expect sales to rise over the next year, according to the most recent Business Outlook Survey by the Bank of Canada. Commodities firms, mainly those in the oil, gas and mining sectors, feel that activity has hit rock-bottom and report cautious optimism that things may finally start to improve somewhat this year.

Manpower’s employer survey reports a modest hiring outlook for the near future, with 14 percent of employers planning to hire and 76 percent of employers expecting to make no changes to current staffing levels.

Talent Shortages

Many Canadian firms looking to hire have reported a skills mismatch between job requirements and candidate skills. Skilled workers, both in the trades (construction workers, mechanics, machine operators) and in the applied sciences (engineers, architects), are in demand. This skills gap is also expected to significantly affect northern regions and remote communities.

The skills gap is a controversial topic, however; some experts do not believe there is, in fact, a talent shortage, or that it is not significant and only affects certain sectors. Indeed, employers spend less on training employees than in the past. Generally speaking, there are not enough technicians and tradespeople in the labor market, and professional associations in sectors such as IT affirm a lack of specialists in certain areas or a skills gap between current workers’ skills and required skills.

The federal government has created a new immigration system, Express Entry (English and French), to expedite the process of bringing foreign workers with skills in short supply to Canada. Jobseekers fill out an online form that then matches them with available job openings.

Top ten occupations with the highest growth and salaries

  1. Mining and forestry manager
  2. Urban planner
  3. Pharmacist
  4. Pilot or flying instructor
  5. Public administration director
  6. Construction manager
  7. Software engineer
  8. Oil and gas well operator
  9. Financial manager
  10. Engineering manager

Source: Canadian Business

Skills in Demand

Soft Skills

Canadian employers report difficulty finding the right combination of skilled workers with soft skills. For entry-level positions, hiring managers look mainly for soft skills, such as relationship building, communication, problem solving and leadership skills; employers expect new hires to gain experience and technical knowledge on the job and through training. Employers also want to see analytical abilities, leadership, industry-specific knowledge and experience, technological literacy and project management skills.

‘Canadian work experience’

For newcomers, the all-important ‘Canadian work experience’ can be an obstacle to finding a good job. What ‘Canadian work experience’ really means is having the required soft skills that are valued in Canadian society.

Workers are expected to:

  • provide a high level of customer service, often accompanied with a smile
  • be able to receive constructive criticism and feedback
  • be willing to admit to mistakes
  • ask for clarifications when needed
  • not pass blame onto others
  • be a team player
  • be adaptable and flexible
  • demonstrate emotional intelligence
  • exhibit problem-solving and leadership qualities
  • not bring gifts to one’s superior, which may be perceived as bribery.

Employers may also prefer skills such as English-French bilingualism, local diplomas or certificates, and specialist over generalist experience.

General Salary Trends

Given the recent mediocre economic climate, most Canadian companies have been cautious about salary increases. To counterbalance, companies have been turning to other forms of compensation, such as promotions, training and career development opportunities, and short-term incentives.

The national average hourly wage in Canada for both men and women over 15 years of age is 25.80 CAD. The hourly average wage for men is 27.54 CAD; for women, it is 24.03 CAD. Average weekly earnings are 960.49 CAD.

Salaries are forecast to rise moderately this year, by 2.3 percent in the private sector and 2 percent in the public sector, according to the Conference Board of Canada. Quebec, Manitoba, Ontario and British Columbia should have the highest increases.


Canada weathered the Great Recession better than most industrialized countries thanks to its conservative policies. Though its economic growth is slow, it is steady. The country’s willingness to accept immigrants into its borders, along with foreign workers who can fill skills gaps, gives Canada an advantage: it can, in all likelihood, overcome its skills shortage more quickly and easily than most.   


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