By Zachary Roman
Published May 26 2020
It is no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has been affecting Canada’s economy in an unprecedented way. According to Statistics Canada over three million jobs have been lost and 2.5 million people are working significantly reduced hours since the government shut down non-essential businesses to slow the spread of COVID-19 in March. Small businesses with under 20 employees – and those that work for them – have been hit the hardest and have seen a 30.8 per cent loss of employment.
As an area with many small businesses Haliburton County has felt the full effects of the March economic shutdown. However local experts are saying there is hope for the future and are cautiously optimistic as phase one of the Ontario government’s “Framework for Reopening our Province” was put into action on May 19.
Jillian Diezel an employment and training consultant and technical lead at the Fleming CREW Employment Centre said the centre is seeing a lot more people starting to contact them now that some businesses have started reopening. But in the past few months they’ve still been busy.
“Initially we saw a decline in the number of jobs that were being posted; and definitely a large increase in the number of people being laid off because of the widespread business closures across the county” said Diezel. “We were assisting a lot of people who were laid off and trying to access the supports that were available through the government.” Diezel said the centre was busy helping people who were laid off try to find work in fields different than their own as well.
In regards to government supports such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit Diezel said the centre found they were available quite rapidly for those that needed them. However the online-first nature of Canada’s EI system was a challenge for some.
“With the lack of internet availability in the county and the number of people who aren’t familiar or savvy with using computers … that was a major barrier” said Diezel. “We do assist a lot of people who typically would come into our resource centre and guide them through the steps to use the computer to access online services … but because obviously our office was closed … we were guiding people over the phone which is challenging.”
Sean Dooley a labour market analyst at the Workforce Development Board in Peterborough said that while workers can get EI fairly quickly some small business owners don’t think that government support for them has come quick enough and that they still need more help. He also said that certain industries such as tourism have been hit much harder than others. As a result of this many businesses in a tourism hotspot like Haliburton County could struggle.
“Many of the industries that are most prevalent in Haliburton in terms of employment and business counts are also among those that were the hardest hit by COVID-19 restrictions. This will have undoubtedly impacted unemployment rates and it remains to be seen whether workers will have a job to return to as the economy begins to reopen” said Dooley in a labour market information report submitted to the Echo. According to the report the top three most prevalent industries in the region – by number of people employed – are currently retail trade accomodation and food service and construction.
Canada’s April unemployment rate was 13 per cent a 5.2 per cent increase from March – and the number would be 17.8 per cent if it were adjusted to reflect those who were not counted as unemployed for reasons specific to the COVID-19 economic shutdown. During the week of April 12 1.1 million Canadians weren’t working but worked recently and wanted to work. They weren’t counted as unemployed but were counted as not in the labour force because they didn’t look for work – presumably due to business closures and limited opportunities.
While opportunities for work in some sectors have become limited due to COVID-19 new opportunities have shown up in areas such as administration security product delivery and more. “A lot of employers have been pivoting and redesigning their businesses to comply with the new regulations and therefore require more staff to make that happen” said Diezel.
“Businesses … trying to get their business online were looking for people who could provide e-commerce support just to help them transition to provide online shopping” said Diezel. “We also did see a big increase in health care and in old age homes looking for support positions … not even nurses or PSW’s necessarily – which we did see some of those positions – but even support staff like cleaning services and food service staff in those kinds of institutions.”
Dooley echoed this and said that across the board demand for workers in the health care sector has increased. However he said he has seen an especially high demand for personal support workers.
Another job Dooley has seen increased demand for is delivery drivers. He said that many businesses who didn’t offer delivery in the past are now looking for ways to get their products out to consumers. To Dooley the labour market’s reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that our economy is a lot more adaptive and resilient than we may have expected.
Diezel said she thinks the rollout of phase one of the “Framework for Reopening our Province” is welcome for the Haliburton County labour market so long as it is rolled out in a way that is staying in line with all necessary safety precautions. She is impressed with the way local businesses and workers have found ways to continue on amid the stressful and ever-changing landscape of the pandemic.
“I think that we all really want to make sure that we’re doing the right things and take it as slowly as we need to to ensure that we’re keeping our community safe and everyone else safe” said Diezel. “[It’s] encouraging to see that businesses are … taking it seriously and wanting to take things slow and and really thinking of unique ways that they can provide services … in a safe way. And I think the same can be said for the job seekers that we’re assisting right now. So many people are demonstrating their versatility and their resilience during this challenging time really using it as an opportunity to build new skills and maybe even reevaluate their career goals.”
Diezel said that Fleming CREW is currently aware of more than 50 active job postings in the Haliburton County area and that they are finding more and more each day. “We definitely want people to know that if they are wanting to reenter the workforce there are postings available and we’d be really happy to help connect them with the right one” said Diezel. Employers can contact Fleming CREW if they would like to post a job as well.
Dooley said that he thinks a lot of people would be surprised at the amount of jobs that are still available. The WDB has a monthly “Eye On The Labour Market” newsletter which highlights the top ten jobs and skills in demand locally. Dooley said the newsletter along with the WDB’s jobs hub tool – which aggregates job postings from over 20 different job boards – can be a great resource to find work locally as businesses start to reopen.