Social and community service workers, whose wages barely changed over two years, lead the list of professions with the largest increases in vacancies across the country during the last two years, according to new figures from Statistics Canada.
Between the fourth quarters of 2019 and 2021, job openings in those professions jumped by 159.8 per cent, while wages stagnated. The average hourly wage in that category was $20.20 in 2019 and had risen slightly to $20.55 by the fourth quarter of 2021.
The increase in vacancies for construction trades helper and labourer jobs was not far behind, rising by 158.4 per cent over the two-year stretch, with food and beverage servers (144.9) and light-duty cleaners (140.8) rounding out the top five.
Also among the top 10 categories for job opening increases were food counter attendants, kitchen helpers and related support occupations (119.4 per cent); registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses (117.1); cooks (88.8); store shelf stockers, clerks and order fillers (86.5); nurse aides, orderlies and patient service associates (81.3), and retail salespersons (48.9), according to StatsCan.
Several reasons account for this ranking, starting with, but not exclusively wages. Take food and beverage servers, whose average hourly wages nationally (not counting tips) were $12.90 in the fourth quarter of 2019 and $13.85 in the fourth quarter of 2021. Overall, five of the job categories listed above saw workers paid under $20 per hour on average in 2021 – up from seven in 2019 – while two still paid less than $15 an hour, up from three in 2019.
The second factor concerned the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on those jobs. Countless cooks, food and beverage servers, and food counter attendants; kitchen helpers and related support occupations, and retail salespeople found themselves either out of work or with fewer hours due to public health measures. Many left those fields for greener pastures as part of the Great Resignation.
Workers in other professions on the list, meanwhile, found themselves under unprecedented strain, starting with registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses. While their average hourly wages of $31.45 in the fourth quarter of 2019 and $32.55 in 2021 ranked highest, the increased vacancy rate of 117.1 per cent more than suggests those rates do not represent adequate compensation for their work.
Comparable comments in the StatsCan report apply to other groups of workers deemed essential and hailed as heroic during the height of the pandemic, such as store shelf stockers, clerks and order fillers, who helped to sustain supply lines, while earning average hourly wages of $13.85 in the fourth quarter of 2019 and $14.40 in the fourth quarter of 2021.
Overall, job vacancies are up across all 20 sectors relative to pre-COVID-19 levels, according to Statistics Canada, as Canadian employers were seeking to fill 915,500 job vacancies in the fourth quarter of 2021, 80 per cent more than in 2019 and 63.4 per cent more than in 2020.
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