Struggling to find a job during the pandemic? You're not alone

It’s no secret that jobs are hard to come by during COVID-19, but experts warn that trend could have long-term repercussions even after the pandemic is gone. 

Experts warn COVID-19 will leave a lasting mark on the labour market

Experts say office jobs will be hard to come by compared to positions in construction and cleaning. (AFP/Getty Images)

Serena Moar estimates she's submitted more than 300 applications since she lost her job at the beginning of the pandemic. 

The labour market has made her dizzy. She's been hired and then laid off three times during COVID-19 because the companies miscalculated their staffing needs when they opened again as part of Alberta's relaunch. 

"I feel defeated," she said. 

It's no secret that jobs are hard to come by during COVID-19, but experts warn that trend could have long-term repercussions even after the pandemic is over.

The economy is recovering but it's an incomplete rebound, according to Brendon Bernard, an economist at Indeed Canada. 

Several elements could extend the consequences of the pandemic on job prospects. An incomplete rebound will put more pressure on the labour market as it overflows with people ready to start working again. Sectors also aren't recovering at the same rate leaving many industries without any new jobs while others thrive.  And some may never recover at all.

Demand for workers in industries like construction, warehouses and salons is much higher than tourism, fitness or retail, Bernard said. 

Retail, tourism and restaurants will struggle with long-term fallout from the pandemic, experts warn. (Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images)

Indeed Canada has seen a decline in job postings on their website but a dramatic increase in the number of applications for a single advertisement. It's an employer's market. 

"It's a tough time for job seekers to try to find work in these certain areas because employers are flush with candidate interest," he said. 

The gains coming back to the labour market aren't necessarily equal to what was lost either. Statistics show that most of the new jobs Alberta added in July are part time positions, not full time. 

There's the flip side. Bernard said some employers will never have jobs to offer again. 

"There are some areas of the economy that are probably not going to go back to normal even once this is over."

Surge after CERB

The labour market is in a dire situation, but the biggest surge of job seekers could be yet to come as the federal government's COVID-19 program called the Canada Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB) comes to an end next month. 

That benefit provided taxable payments of $2,000 a month to the 4.7 million Canadians who applied. Those citizens will be forced to look for other income options once the program concludes. 

Alberta's unemployment rate is sitting around 12.8 per cent, down from 15.5 per cent in June. Many employers are slowly recovering, but it's nowhere near pre-pandemic levels. 

Canada added 419,000 jobs in July (68,000 of those in Alberta), but that's still down 1.3 million positions compared to the start of the year. 

Employment agencies have also seen a drop in their offerings. About Staffing, a Calgary-based staffing firm, just launched a new platform in an attempt to kickstart business, providing advice on how to get that elusive job for a monthly membership fee. 

Chris Massie, the director of recruiting, said they're bracing for a huge surge of needy workers once CERB wraps up. 

That wave will flood an already crowded pool of job seekers and Massie warns the process won't be like anything they've ever experienced.

"There's a lot of transformations that have been going on in the job market and it's going to make it even harder for people once they lose jobs to find jobs," he cautioned.

"We think that the hoops are going to be harder to see and to fit inside as you jump."

Many companies that have laid off workers have told the Bank of Canada they plan to refill some positions this year, but those plans are marred with uncertainty. The bank's business outlook indicated that service and energy sector jobs aren't expected to return to pre-pandemic employment levels — two areas that employ a huge chunk of Albertans. 

Bernard recently published an analysis showing job hunters aren't as interested in low-paying jobs or ones that don't easily support remote working, such as cleaning or construction. It found that many people haven't reached a point of desperation yet because they expect to be recalled to work or continue to receive COVID-19 benefits.

It's bad luck to graduate during a recession

He says there's one trend he's concerned will hurt younger demographics: it's bad luck to graduate during a recession. 

"These new labour market entrants are also going to find a challenge as the dust settles once we get out of this reopening phase and into more of the slower grind of recouping all the jobs that have been lost."

Moar said her fellow students and peers are all experiencing that issue. With CERB ending, they're applying for Employment Insurance or more student loans to pay for rent, groceries, transit and other necessities.

"Personally I'm feeling really stressed about managing my finances," she said. 

Finding a job right now can be nigh on impossible, but there are also unique challenges for those starting new positions.

Entry level or low paying jobs are still not very desirable to job hunters, according to an analysis from Indeed Canada. (Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

Stephanie Solomon was thrilled to get a job in research and policy at Calgary Arts Development during the pandemic. She's been in the job for a few months, but has yet to go into the office or meet many of her coworkers in person. 

"You're dipped into the deep end," she said. "There is no normal foundation for a worldwide pandemic. So you literally have to figure out your environment as you go along."

Solomon knows what it's like to be jobless, because she was unemployed for three years. Her advice for anyone job hunting in the pandemic is not to give up, network and find someone who can give you appropriate advice for the sector you're in. 

Bernard said while the horizon looks daunting, there are tactics you can use to set yourself apart. 

"Talk to your networks, use the job search tools available to you … and if finding work is a particular challenge consider exploring different skills and in training opportunities that might help."

Massie concurred that it will be a tough slog. 

"You're going to have to put the work and effort into standing out in the crowd," he said. 

"Get comfortable talking about who you are and introducing yourself to other people and networking and utilizing your networks for support and assistance and guidance."

Experts agree the effects of the pandemic will leave a mark on the labour market for months to come.

That fact weighs heavy on Moar but she's not giving up yet. 

"I'm hopeful to just keep applying for things until something ends up working out."


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?