The number of employees receiving pay or benefits from their employer—measured by the Survey of Employment, Payrolls and Hours (SEPH) as payroll employment—increased by 118,100 (+0.7%) in March. The increase in payroll employment coincided with the continued easing of public health measures, as remaining capacity limits affecting business operations had generally been lifted by the first two weeks of March, although some combination of masking, proof of COVID-19 vaccination, or COVID-19 testing remained a requirement in some settings in certain jurisdictions.
Payroll employment increases in most provinces in March, driven by the services-producing sector
In March, seven provinces recorded payroll employment increases, while there was little change in Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan. All provinces, with the exception of Alberta (-12,700; -0.6%) and Newfoundland and Labrador (-1,700; -0.8%), had, in March, surpassed their payroll employment level in February 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Quebec (+57,100; +1.5%) recorded the largest payroll employment increase in March, driven by gains in the accommodation and food services sector (+20,400; +9.1%), which was boosted by the provincial reopening of bars, taverns and casinos on February 28, 2022.
Nationally, payroll employment gains in March were driven by the services-producing sector (+103,400; +0.7%), led by accommodation and food services (+46,200; +4.0%) and retail trade (+14,800; +0.7%). In the goods-producing sector, payroll employment increased by 9,400 (+0.3%), with gains in manufacturing (+5,100; +0.3%) and mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction (+2,100; +1.1%).
Retail trade surpasses its pre-pandemic payroll employment level for the first time
Payroll employment in retail trade rose by 14,800 (+0.7%) in March, and, for the first time, surpassed its pre-pandemic level, increasing by 9,600 (+0.5%) compared with February 2020. Payroll employment in the sector was either on par with or higher than in February 2020 in all provinces in March 2022, with the exception of Ontario (-5,400; -0.7%) and Manitoba (-2,100; -3.0%).
Nationally, more than half of the subsectors within retail trade reported payroll employment increases in March, led by food and beverage stores (+7,400; +1.4%) and clothing and clothing accessories stores (+3,300; +1.7%).
While total payroll employment in food and beverage stores was above its pre-pandemic level (+8,700; +1.6%) in March, industries within this subsector had not recovered at the same pace. In the grocery stores industry, payroll employment was 2.8% above its pre-pandemic level in March. In the beer, wine and liquor stores industry, on the other hand, payroll employment was 5.1% (-2,600) below its February 2020 employment level.
Payroll employment increases in both accommodation and food services and arts, entertainment and recreation, as indoor capacity limits are lifted
Payroll employment increased in the accommodation and food services sector (+46,200; +4.0%) in March 2022. Gains were mainly attributed to food services and drinking places (+39,500; +4.0%). Quebec (+20,400; +9.1%) and Ontario (+15,800; +3.8%) were the source of over three-quarters of the gain.
In the arts, entertainment and recreation sector, which also benefitted from the easing of indoor capacity limits in March, payroll employment increased by 10,400 (+4.0%) in the month. Many of the gains were in amusement, gambling and recreation industries (+7,700; +4.1%). Quebec (+5,900; +11.4%) and Ontario (+2,700; +2.7%) accounted for the majority of the gain.
Average weekly earnings increase in March
Average weekly earnings, derived by dividing total weekly earnings by the total number of payroll employees, were $1,170 in March, up 0.9% compared with February. On a year-over-year basis, average weekly earnings increased 4.3% in March, while the Consumer Price Index increased 6.7% during the same period. The March year-over-year increase (+4.3%) was more than double the year-over-year increase observed in February (+2.1%) and January (+2.1%). In general, changes in average weekly earnings can be the result of a number of factors, including wage growth, and special payments such as bonuses, changes in the composition of employment and average hours worked per week.
Of all sectors, utilities recorded the largest year-over-year increase in average weekly earnings in March (+11.7% to $2,011), followed by finance and insurance (+12.1% to $1,625) and professional, scientific and technical services (+8.0% to $1,633). Arts, entertainment and recreation (-4.2% to $693) was the only sector in March to report a year-over-year decrease in average weekly earnings, likely due, in part, to compositional changes in employment resulting from lower-paid employees returning to work following the removal of most capacity limits and proof-of-vaccination requirements in most provinces.
Average weekly hours worked essentially unchanged in March
Average weekly hours worked were little changed in March. Hourly paid employees worked an average of 31.3 hours per week, up 2.5% from the pre-pandemic level, while salaried employees worked 37.1 hours per week, up 0.7% compared with February 2020.
Overall job vacancies reach all-time high
Across all sectors, Canadian employers were actively seeking to fill more than one million (1,012,900) vacant positions at the beginning of March 2022, a record high. Vacancies increased by 22.6% (+186,400) in the month and were up 60.5% (+382,000) from March 2021 (not seasonally adjusted).
The job vacancy rate, which measures the number of vacant positions as a proportion of all positions (vacant and filled), was 5.9% in March 2022, matching the record high observed in September 2021 (not seasonally adjusted).
Vacancies increase by more than one-third in both accommodation and food services and retail trade
In the accommodation and food services sector, the number of vacancies rose 37.2% (+42,900) in March 2022. Following this increase, employers were seeking to fill a total of 158,100 positions. The job vacancy rate was 12.8%, the highest across all sectors for the 11th consecutive month (not seasonally adjusted).
There were 109,200 job vacancies in retail trade in March, up 37.2% (+29,600) from February. Following this increase, vacancies in the sector were 40.7% (+31,600) higher than in March 2021 (not seasonally adjusted).
Record level of job vacancies in health care and social assistance and in construction
Employers in health care and social assistance were seeking to fill a record-high 154,500 vacant positions in March 2022, up 16.0% (+21,300) from February. The job vacancy rate climbed to a new high of 6.6% in March after plateauing at 5.8% during the previous three months.
The number of vacancies also rose to an unprecedented high (81,900) in the construction sector in March. The increase in the month (+26.6%; +17,200) followed five consecutive monthly declines and the job vacancy rate reached a record high of 7.3%, up 1.3 percentage points from February.
Job vacancies up in all provinces
On a month-over-month basis, job vacancies increased in all provinces in March. Proportionally, the largest increases were in Saskatchewan (+49.4% to 26,600), Nova Scotia (+45.6% to 23,000), and Newfoundland and Labrador (+43.1% to 8,300). The number of vacancies reached a record high in Nova Scotia (23,000), Manitoba (30,000), Saskatchewan (26,600), and British Columbia (178,300).
There was an average of 1.2 unemployed people for each job vacancy in March, down from 1.4 in February and from 2.6 one year earlier (not seasonally adjusted). This decline coincides with a number of Labour Force Survey indicators which pointed to an increasingly tight labour market in March, including a record-low unemployment rate of 5.3% and a record-high core-age (aged 25 to 54 years) labour force participation rate of 88.6% (data from the Labour Force Survey are seasonally adjusted).
The unemployment-to-job vacancy ratios varied across Canada, with the lowest ratios in Quebec (0.8) and British Columbia (0.8), and the highest in Newfoundland and Labrador (4.3). A lower ratio indicates a tighter labour market and possible labour shortages.
New data shed light on recent challenges experienced by employers facing labour shortages
Before increasing to over one million (1,012,900) in March 2022, job vacancies had fallen for five consecutive months from a previous high of 988,300 in September 2021. Labour demand varies over the course of the year influenced by seasonal patterns with increased economic activity typically driving higher demand for labour in the spring and summer and lower demand in the winter. These seasonal effects are reflected in the five months of consecutive decreases in job vacancies from October 2021 to February 2022.
To shed light on recent trends in job vacancies and account for seasonality, Statistics Canada has developed new experimental data with the goal to remove the effect of seasonal patterns. Based on these data, total job vacancies increased from September to December 2021, consistent with a number of economic and labour market indicators which suggested that employers continued to face significant challenges filling vacant positions in the late fall and early winter 2021.
Using these same experimental data, vacancies decreased in January and February 2022, coinciding with tighter public health restrictions, before resuming their increase in March.