Where Have All the People Gone?

Shawnee Love   •   July 8, 2022

Many including myself have been wondering, where have all the people gone? Why is it so hard to find people to work? And how long will this last?

My belief is that it isn’t any single thing but rather a combination of factors which in perfect storm fashion, have come together to make this a candidate’s market. Here is what I have noticed:

Retirees– People who may have held off retiring over uncertainty of savings in the beginning of Covid, decided now is a good time to go. Additionally, never before in Canada has their been so many people near retirement. That huge demographic of baby boomers are on their way out and can afford it and we just haven’t had enough babies to balance them out. This factor isn’t going away either as 20% of our workforce is going to be leaving it in the next 5-10 years.

Immigration– Covid made immigrating a little more difficult. Canada didn’t close its borders to immigrants, but a quick peek into the details under the headlines and you will learn that a lot of the people Canada officially “welcomed” in 2021 for example, were already here as temporary workers. I.e., less net newcomers coming to Canada to work. Moreover, for those who did arrive new, it wasn’t easy for them to launch themselves into work in light of the various restrictions which also challenged access to things like taking English language classes, obtaining documentation, getting set up with respect to accommodation, utilities, services, etc.

Global Companies– With remote work becoming de rigeur, global companies turned their eyes to the skilled labour in Canada and hired people to work remotely for their international firms. While those people still live in our communities, they aren’t really working locally. Additionally, short of getting laid off, they might not choose to work locally if the stories of the compensation packages and home office perks are even partially to be believed. Those global companies pay well, provide generous benefits and time off, and have the infrastructure to manage people working remotely without the hiccups many smaller local employers face.

Care of Dependents or Self– People whose daycares or schools closed found themselves home with the kids during COVID. Many also took in family members and then stayed home in their bubbles. Some of these people decided they liked this new way of living and simply haven’t come back to work at all. Others feel more safe remaining at home and will only consider jobs offering this option. Still others struggle with their mental health which was negatively impacted by COVID itself as well as the measures taken to protect people from getting COVID and are not yet able to return to work. (This negative consequence is based on feedback from the trenches, I haven’t seen much data on it yet beyond statistics associated with increased drug and alcohol use, and more calls to police and social services regarding abuse).

Work Rethink– Some workers have decided they wanted something different from their work and made the according changes to leave industries, work less hours (part time requests abound), and work for themselves more. Note, this is a widely reported reason that the hospitality and tourism industries are struggling to find people, but my experience is that a proportion of workers from all industries made these changes. I believe this group of people are the most likely to come back into the full time labour pool if and when the predicted recession arrives, but for now, it means less available person hours in the candidate pool.

New to the Workforce– Not sure what this is all about but I have noticed a lot of young people either do not work or work very limited hours, while still living at their parents’ homes, not paying rent, and not going to school. As such, the new workers who are supposed to backfill the Boomers who are aging out of the workforce are not showing up for as many hours (nor as skilled of course, which means the work they do takes longer than their predecessors).

The cumulative effect of all of these smaller reductions in the workforce have left employers struggling to find employees willing and able to work, and for employees/ candidates, they have found themselves in the best employment market of their lives.

If the dreaded recession comes, things will change, but there is always a lag, so for now, get creative with recruiting and love the people you have. If you want help with creative recruitment and retention initiatives, we are here to help.