The months of physical distancing are beginning to pay off. Governments have begun to set in motion plans to reopen their economies. While our collective attention must remain focused on the health and well-being of Canadians, it is undeniable that we are in the midst of a job crisis unlike any Canada has seen before.
Three million people have lost their jobs in two months, according to the Labour Force Survey for April. That’s more job losses than the past three recessions combined, in a fraction of the time; and we’re likely not done yet.
While the high percentage of job losses from temporary layoffs gives us some hope of slowly returning to our previous jobs, we must confront the reality that Canada’s job market may never be the same again. Many will not find their job waiting for them. Some businesses will be forced to close their doors for good. Entire sectors, such as tourism and hospitality, have been turned upside down.
There is no blueprint for employment recovery from COVID-19. Generally, governments have done well in addressing the multi-faceted dimensions of this crisis in a timely way. These efforts must continue as the economic fallout unfolds in the weeks and months ahead.
Yet, as with past disruptions, we should remind ourselves that new opportunities will sprout from the ashes of economic turmoil. Entirely new ways of doing business and working will generate jobs that did not exist before. The demands of old jobs are already shifting in new and uncertain ways. The road ahead will be bumpy, but we have a tremendous opportunity to plan and think now about how to ensure a full and inclusive employment recovery.
As restrictions ease and people begin to re-enter the labour force, many will be looking for additional training to upskill and reskill. How do we point them in the right direction to meet the new skills and other work requirements of our changed economy?
First, we need a better understanding of what these new realities could be. In this case, pinpointing with surgical precision what the near- and medium-term economic landscape of Canada will look like will not be helpful. Too often our insights into the future assume a simple and single trajectory, leaving us unprepared for any deviation from the expected course. A more effective solution is to provide more objective data and insights — quantitative and qualitative — with assumptions around different possible economic scenarios. This will help prepare us for some level of uncertainty in the job market that lies ahead.
Second, we need to develop a clearer picture of the skill requirements of these new job realities. That means working harder to understand employers’ needs and how these change. Insightful data from machine learning and other data-mining techniques have opened new approaches to documenting the skill requirements of jobs, offering Canadians immense opportunities in emerging labour market trends.
Third, workers will need support evaluating how their existing skills can be adapted to new and different fields and what entirely new skills might be needed. Schools and training institutions must be provided with the necessary insights to help Canadians effectively transition back to meaningful employment. This will be urgently needed to support workers most affected by this job crisis and position them to take part in its recovery.
How do we start thinking and planning for this now to give Canadians the best chance of recovery?
Governments and policymakers must invest in ongoing, objective labour market research and data analysis to shed light on the new normal. COVID-19 has exposed our vulnerabilities.
Three million people have lost their jobs in two months. That’s more job losses than the past three recessions combined. There is no blueprint for employment recovery from COVID-19.
Canadians must be able to access comprehensive, unbiased information and insights to ensure that their decisions are well-informed in pursuit of investment opportunities and jobs that align with their preferences, qualifications and skills.
The speed of change at which the labour market will shift in new directions presents an unprecedented challenge.
Canada’s current and future workforce needs more insightful data. And the workforce needs that data soon to navigate this transition. Otherwise, the current job crisis could balloon into a social crisis as well.