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Job Seeker Interest in Opportunities Has Shifted Across Sectors

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Postings in lower-paying, and non-remote sectors have declined in relative popularity.

Key points:

  • Job postings in lower-paying, and less remote-friendly sectors, like cleaning and sanitation, and construction, have seen relative declines in job seeker interest compared to sectors offering higher pay or more remote work opportunities, like human resources and marketing.
  • Employment losses have been concentrated in lower-wage jobs, but new work opportunities in these areas haven’t received a relative flood in interest, potentially because of expected recalls, emergency benefits, and COVID-19 fears. 
  • So far, shifting job seeker interest hasn’t precluded a rebound in Canadian employment. However, employers finding it difficult to fill openings can consider wage increases and heighted safety to attract workers, though they still depend on developments outside their control — especially taming the pandemic — for these strategies to work. 

It’s been several months since COVID-19 hit Canada, and job posting trends on Indeed remain subdued compared with last year’s levels across most sectors of the economy. Of course though, some employers are still looking for workers. For them, the hiring landscape has shifted, depending on the types of positions they’re looking to fill. 

One way to track how the job market is evolving is by looking at changes in clicks-per-posting across different sectors. Clicks-per-posting provide a measure of job seeker interest relative to the number of job opportunities. Employers in sectors receiving more clicks per posting tend to have greater access to potential candidates, usually making the hiring process easier. 

Examining changes in clicks-per-posting on Indeed Canada since February, job seeker interest has shifted in two distinct directions. Clicks-per-posting generally have fallen compared with the economy-wide average in sectors with mostly lower-wage jobs, or that feature work that’s less feasible from home. 

Some areas seeing less relative interest have experienced major job losses during the crisis, such as construction, and food services. Overall, a combination of factors may explain why job seekers aren’t particularly jumping at opportunities in these areas, including prospects of employer recalls, availability and structure of government aid, and concerns about COVID-19. Conversely, relative interest has surged for postings in several mid- and higher-paying white-collar sectors with greater opportunities for remote work, like human resources, marketing, and accounting, suggesting a tough environment for job seekers looking at these roles. 

Similar to job posting trends, reports of labour shortages are down since February, but they haven’t hit zero. Our analysis suggests employers struggling to fill vacancies or coax furloughed workers back can use pay increases and heightened emphasis on health and safety as potential ways to attract candidates. However, their ability to do so depends on the health of their business, access to government aid, and public confidence about the pandemic. 

Construction, and cleaning and sanitation job postings experience largest relative drops in interest

To track how Canadian job seeker interest in opportunities posted on Indeed is evolving during the crisis, we follow changes in “interest ratios” across different sectors of the economy. We derive the interest ratio for a given sector by comparing its clicks per posting with clicks per posting on all jobs advertised on Indeed.

Lower-wage sectors tend to have interest ratios above 1.0, that is, they receive more clicks per posting than the average job. For example, in early February, job postings in cleaning and sanitation, which includes janitors, and housekeepers, had an interest ratio of 1.65, meaning they received 65% more clicks than the average Indeed Canada job posting. Since then, relative job seeker interest in these roles has dropped. During the week of July 31, their interest ratio was 1.09, a 0.57 percentage point fall, just shy of the largest decline of any Canadian sector.      

Other areas registering relative declines in job seeker interest since the start of the pandemic include construction, loading and stocking, and food preparation and service. These sectors tend to have at least one of two features. Either they offer relatively low pay, as measured by average posted salaries on Indeed, or they are less likely to include terms like “remote work” or “work from home” in their job descriptions, a proxy for how much direct contact jobs in the sector require with the public or co-workers. These two patterns hold up under more rigorous statistical scrutiny (see methodology). 

Table titled “Job postings in lower-wage, as well as non-remote sectors have seen relative declines in job seeker interest.” Table shows sectors with large declines in interest ratios (clicks per posting relative to economy-wide average). Table shows 10 sectors with ranking, title, change in interest ratio Feb 7 to July 31, interest ratio on July 31, wage-tier, and remote-work options. The #1 ranking is Construction, with -0.58 change in interest ratio Feb. 7 to July 31, .092 interest ratio on July 31, mid-wage tier, and low-remote work options. The sector in rank 10 is Installation & Maintenance, with -0.09 change in interest ratio Feb 7. To July 31, .67 interest ratio on July 31, high-wage tier, and low-remote work options. Data are 7-day moving averages, minimum 1,000 postings on July 3. Wage and remote-option tiers based on weighted terciles of posted salaries/job description. Caption added post-publication.

On the flip side, interest ratios have surged in several white collar sectors like human resources, marketing, and accounting. Also on the list are branches of tech, like information design and documentation, which include data and systems analysts, as well as IT operations and help desk. Job postings in these areas tend to offer mid-to-high wages and are more likely to mention remote work, suggesting less risk from the pandemic. This relative flood in clicks-per-posting, partly driven by a lack of available opportunities, suggests heighted job seeker competition to fill these roles, and a difficult environment for recent college grads looking to start their careers, among others. 

Table titled “Job postings in sectors with higher pay or more remote work options have seen relative increases in job seeker interest.” Table shows the sector with the largest increases in interest ratios (clicks per posting relative to economy-wide average). Table shows 10 sectors with ranking, title, change in interest ratio Feb 7 to July 31, interest ratio on July 31, wage-tier, and remote-work options. The #1 ranking sector is Human Resources, with +0.65 change in interest ratio Feb. 7 to July 31, 2.03 interest ratio on July 31, high-wage tier, and high-remote work options. Data are 7-day moving averages, minimum 1,000 postings on July 31. Wage and remote-option tiers based on weighted terciles of posted salaries/job description. Caption added post-publication.

Disconnect between shifting search interest and job losses

Layoffs early during the pandemic were overwhelmingly concentrated in mid- and lower-paying occupations, especially in non-essential sections of the service sector. However, as opportunities for work in many of these areas have started to rebound, job seeker interest in these postings has lagged other areas of the economy. 

This disconnect likely partly reflects the Canadian labour market’s unprecedented situation. The Labour Force Survey indicates that most people laid off in March and April weren’t looking for work early on, and while search activity among this group has rebounded since, an elevated share indicate they’re still temporarily laid off, while others are still technically employed, but not working any hours (often going unpaid). Their job search might be more intense if they had no chance of getting recalled. Consistent with this, clicks by job seekers with recent histories of working in hard-hit areas like construction, as well as loading and stocking, according to resumes uploaded to Indeed, are down slightly as a share of activity since February, despite heavy job losses in their sectors. 

Instead, the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) has helped both furloughed and permanently laid off workers stay afloat. For people searching for a new job, the program can make lower-paying positions less enticing, especially if CERB’S $500 weekly payment exceeds their potential paycheck, and commuting and other costs are factored in. Of course these “other costs” are looming large these days — the most prominent being the risk to personal and public health from COVID-19. This could also spur some to potentially look for work outside their most recent sector, which might pay better.

On the other side of the coin, job seeker interest in remote work has surged, while postings in these areas lag, resulting in a relative increase in clicks-per-posting in sectors broadly conducive to social distancing. In some cases, this trend is independent of pay rates. For instance, jobs in administrative assistance and to a lesser extent, sales, which generally offer lower pay but sometimes include terms related to remote work, both registered increases in job seeker interest ratios.     

Job search and the recovery

So far, the Canadian job market’s recovery has been more influenced by reopening of businesses than by changes in job search patterns. Many of the sectors hit hardest initially have rebounded the most sharply since, including lower-paying jobs. Like job posting trends, reports of labour shortages are down from February according to both the Bank of Canada’s Business Outlook Survey and the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses’ Business Barometer Survey. At the same time, these reports aren’t at zero shortages either. 

Employers struggling to recruit new workers or lure back temporarily laid off employees have options, but they may be costly. A textbook tactic for attracting candidates is to raise pay, which about 6% of businesses reported doing earlier in the pandemic. However, for struggling employers, there might be little room for higher labour costs. 

A second hiring strategy is to emphasize the steps an employer is taking to reduce COVID-19 health risks. Offering remote work is an unambiguous way to do so, but the option isn’t possible for a wide range of jobs. Meanwhile, two-thirds of Canadian businesses indicated in May they were likely to provide personal protective equipment to employees. Employers making these investments should stress them to prospective candidates.

At the same time, health concerns will primarily depend on the trajectory of the pandemic. Canada’s recent progress could help boost job seeker interest in roles requiring interpersonal contact, especially if the situation remains calm as new areas of the economy open. But the outlook is uncertain, particularly with colder weather on the horizon. 

Both job seeker interest and the volume of opportunities in different sectors will also be influenced by policy. For instance, transition away from CERB into a broader employment insurance system could boost interest in lower paying roles by reducing benefit phase-outs for those earning above the current $1000 per month eligibility limit. Meanwhile, if accessible, the expansion of the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy could help boost labour demand and provide employers struggling to fill vacancies greater flexibility in enticing job seekers. Amid the pandemic, how these policies interact with the evolving economic climate and shifting job search patterns will be key as the economy enters the next phase of recovery.  

Methodology

In this post, we track how interest ratios — clicks-per-posting in various sectors relative to economy-wide clicks-per-posting — have changed since the start of the pandemic. Our list of sectors tracks 54 different areas of the economy, grouped by related job titles. Data presented in the table are changes in the seven-day average of the interest ratio of each sector between February 7 and July 31.

We compare how interest ratios have changed across sectors based on their advertised wages and ability to offer remote work. For wages, we calculate the average offered hourly wage of 2020 job postings in each sector among postings featuring an hourly wage in the job description. 

For remote work, we assess the share of each sector’s job postings in June 2020 that featured terms like “remote work”, “work from home”, or “telework” in the job description. While these terms directly refer to remote work, at the sectoral level they also serve as a proxy for how much direct personal contact is required in the jobs included in each group. The wage and remote-work tiers assigned to each group in the tables above are categorized based on tertiles, weighted by the number of total postings during the week of July 31.  

Overall, changes in log-interest ratios are significantly positively correlated with sectoral wages and remote work opportunities when controlling for both factors, which together explain a substantial degree of the variation in interest ratio changes across sectors. 

Table titled “Wages and remote work opportunities both positively correlated with changing interest ratios.” Table shows coefficients on log interest ratio change (Feb-07 to July-31), and that they are significantly positively correlated with sectoral wages and remote work opportunities. Caption added post-publication.