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Economy

NWT’s employers are put to work in ‘really hot labour market’


As the Northwest Territories emerges from pandemic restrictions and the economy continues to recover, plenty of employers are expected to be hiring in 2022. 

A new employment outlook survey by staffing firm Manpower Group states that in this quarter – from April to June – Canada has the greatest hiring outlook in more than a decade.

Of more than 1,000 employers surveyed, 49 percent said they plan to hire new employees. Manpower said the nation has a net employment outlook of plus-37 percent (a figure that represents the share of companies expecting to increase hiring, minus the companies who expect a decrease).

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Across the country, the territories had the strongest projection for job growth with 69 percent of employers surveyed saying they’re hiring and a net employment outlook of plus-65 percent. That’s an increase from the first quarter of 2022, when Manpower said 40 percent of territorial employers had indicated they were planning on hiring and there was a plus-40 percent net employment outlook. 

Richard Plumb, market vice president of western and eastern Canada at Manpower Group, said job growth is expected in all industries but the strongest outlook is in the primary production sector. 

“We have a huge demand in the market for goods. I think the supply chain issues caused a lot of that demand,” he explained. 

Another factor, Plumb said, is what’s referred to as the “great resignation” or the “great realization,” a trend beginning in early 2021 where employees leave their jobs at a higher-than-normal rate.

“People want more out of work than work in these entry-level production positions,” Plumb said. “Quite frankly, in a lot of situations, they’re not appealing to most of the work population.

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“They’re now looking for something else, they’re looking for a better work-life balance, they’re looking for more money … they’re looking for a bit more flexibility.” 

Plumb said with more competition for workers, employers need to consider how to differentiate themselves from other companies and make themselves more attractive to potential employees.

‘A really hot labour market’

RJ Simpson, the NWT’s employment minister, said there have long been more jobs in the NWT than there are resident workers. 

“It’s an annual problem that we have,” he said. “From the employers I talked to, they’re learning how to respond to that.” 

Areas where job growth is expected in the territory this year, Simpson said, include tourism – now that restrictions on leisure travel have been lifted – and early learning and childcare, with the creation of jobs through a funding agreement with the federal government. 

“I know that there’s lots of interest. People want to come up here,” he said of tourism. 

“2022 is looking pretty good for job growth.” 

Northwestel is among employers currently hiring for a range of positions in the NWT and the Yukon. Andrew Anderson, a spokesperson for the telecommunications company, said Northwestel is constantly hiring in the North, particularly since the introduction of the Every Community Project, which aims to bring high-speed internet to every community in the Yukon and NWT. (Dettah was the latest to be connected, earlier this week.)

Anderson said steps the company has taken to attract employees include changes to parental leave benefits, more flexible work options, and improvements to mental health benefits and training. 

“We’re certainly in a really hot labour market,” he said. “We’ve definitely noticed that there’s a lot of options out there for people.”

Clark Builders is also hiring in Yellowknife, largely due to work on the city’s new aquatic centre and a project to extend a building first constructed in 2013. 

Rod Carson, a project executive for the construction company, said work worth around $100 million is scheduled to begin this summer in Yellowknife. He said his sector, like many, is finding a shortage of skilled people to fill available positions.

“We’re not alone in this endeavour to find people,” he said. “A long time ago, a lot of younger folks veered away from the trades because of the low salary and whatnot, and they get into other fields.”

Covid-19’s impact on the job market

Diversifying the economy is one of the mandates of the territorial government. Many politicians have called for more jobs in communities outside Yellowknife.

Simpson said his department is working with communities to develop community labour plans and focus on regional projects and training. He said the NWT government also plans to bolster efforts to ensure students and graduates are prepared for post-secondary education or the workforce.

“Right now we have a very young population,” he said. “We really need to be forward-looking because we have a lot of jobs in the territory and we don’t have enough people to fill all the jobs, we don’t have enough people with the right training.” 

Several businesses in Yellowknife reported added challenges attracting and keeping staff during the Covid-19 pandemic, with some struggling even to maintain regular operating hours. 

The NWT government said in 2020 the territory had lost around 4,000 jobs in the first year of the pandemic, with tourism and retail sales seeing the steepest drops in job numbers. The NWT fared better than other jurisdictions, however, due to the high number of government employees. Around 8,000 employees in the public sector were able to work from home during harsher Covid-19 restrictions and the introduction of the Covid-19 Secretariat created more jobs.

By the start of 2021, data released by the NWT Bureau of Statistics suggested the job outlook in the territory had returned to pre-pandemic levels. But the recovery has not been even across all sectors. Some industries like tourism, hospitality and wholesale trade have continued to struggle. 

Premier Caroline Cochrane said in March that the NWT government plans to create a website this summer that will allow the public to monitor the territory’s post-pandemic recovery.

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