Matching EI recipients with jobs requires ... jobs

The government is investing $21 million to connect unemployed Canadians with available jobs. But a look at job vacancy statistics across Canada shows how those connections are harder to find in some regions than others.

Regional job vacancy data suggests some EI recipients face long odds at finding work

When Human Resources Minister Diane Finley announced the government's plans to reform employment insurance last month, she outlined new measures the government would take to help people find work.

Human Resources Minister Diane Finley introduced changes to Canada's employment insurance system on May 24. A total of $21 million in funding is earmarked for services to help unemployed Canadians connect with available jobs in their areas. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

 "The changes that we are proposing for EI are not about forcing people to move across Canada or to take work that doesn’t match their skill set," Finley said at her May 24 announcement. "Our goal is to help Canadians find local work that matches their skills."

A $21 million expenditure was announced to "connect" unemployed Canadians with available jobs in their area, such as an improved system of emailed "alerts" to advertise local job vacancies to people who may be interested in filling them.

Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose seized upon this idea, referring to an online dating site in writing on Twitter that the changes "are like 'E-Harmony' for job seekers and employers: matching Cdns looking for work with available jobs, data, support."

But will this matchmaking work?

The government's strategy is premised on job vacancies being available to pair with EI recipients in the same region.

"In many cases, Canadians may not be aware of the jobs that are available, so these changes will help make them better aware of what opportunities exist in their local area," the minister's spokesperson Alyson Queen wrote in an email on Friday. "They will help employers better connect with Canadians who have the skills and are located in the area, when they have opportunities available."

In regions experiencing labour shortages, such as in some parts of Western Canada that may be the case.

But what about other places?

Statistics Canada now tracks the availability of job vacancies by province or territory through data collected in its monthly business payroll survey. When you compare this job vacancy data to the provincial unemployment stats tallied from its labour force survey, an interesting picture emerges.

The most recent data represents an average of the three months ending in February 2012. The unemployed-to-job-vacancies ratio calculated by the agency suggests that nationally, there were more than five Canadians looking for work for every advertised job identified in this payroll survey.

Provinces with large numbers of workers employed in seasonal industries had larger unemployed to vacancy ratios.

Longer odds for Atlantic pairings

Consider Atlantic Canada, where premiers met Wednesday and offered strong criticism of the federal government's reform plans.

For Newfoundland and Labrador, the ratio was 15 unemployed workers for every vacancy in the December to February period. Nova Scotia had 9.5 unemployed workers for every vacant job, and New Brunswick reported 13.6. The ratio for Prince Edward Island was just over 8 to 1.

Last summer's data, for the three months ending in September 2011, shows fewer Canadians unemployed, and therefore lower overall ratios. But the regional disparities are still there.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, more than seven people were competing for every vacancy. In Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, the figure was just more than five unemployed workers per vacancy. Only Prince Edward Island had a higher ratio in the summer months than the winter months, at just over nine per reported job vacancy.

Nationally, the ratio was lower, at just over three potential workers for every job across Canada.

All this data is just a snapshot in time. The job vacancy data hasn't been collected for enough months to adjust it seasonally, month to month or analyze things year over year to discern trends.

But mapping the government's "connection" strategy against these ratios from last winter and the previous summer suggests long odds for Atlantic job seekers who don't want to move.

What are the top occupations claiming EI?

When the employment insurance reform plans were announced last month, the government also released the top five occupations listed by EI recipients in each province.

Seasonal occupations, such as farm labourers and service jobs common to the hospitality industry, like cooks, were common fixtures in the top five.

Part of the government's plans includes an attempt to better match the temporary foreign worker program with the needs of the Canadian job market. In some cases, the federal government wants to ensure more efforts are made to employ Canadians before permits are issued to temporary foreign workers for that occupation in a given region.

The figures distributed by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada for January, 2012 show some overlap between occupations listed by EI recipients and the permits granted for temporary foreign workers in certain provinces.

For example, in Ontario the number of unemployed nannies collecting employment insurance (648) was rather similar to the number of permits for temporary foreign workers in that job (668.) The same was true for this occupation in British Columbia, where 322 nannies were collecting employment insurance while 312 temporary permits were issued for foreign workers to do that job.

In Saskatchewan, the number of unemployed Canadian welders (139) was in the same ballpark as the number of temporary foreign workers admitted to the province for that occupation (115), suggesting that better coordination could provide opportunities for Canadians who need jobs. 

However, in seasonal industries, these figures could be misleading.

There may be a short period of time where a labour shortage exists, requiring temporary foreign workers – to harvest a particular crop, for example, or cater to tourists that arrive mainly in July and August. But for the other months of the year, the Canadians employed seasonally at the same jobs as those foreign workers could still turn up on the rolls of the employment insurance program.

These figures also don't break down to particular regions inside each province.

The government has suggested that Canadians will not be forced to commute for unreasonably long distances to find a job that matches their skills.

There's no way of knowing from these provincial breakouts whether the unemployed Canadians listed in a given occupation live reasonably close to the job vacancy the temporary foreign workers listed are filling.