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State of the Labour Market

Holiday Hiring Lags Last Year

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Some large retailers are still looking to fill seasonal positions.

Key points

  • This year is shaping up to be a down year for Canadian seasonal hiring, with holiday-related job postings lagging both last year’s trend and recruitment in the broader economy.
  • Job seeker interest is also down, with the share of job searches on Indeed including seasonal-related terms lower than in 2019.
  • Large retailers have the most seasonal job postings, while what happens to seasonal hiring in years to come will depend on how much of the recent surge in online shopping is permanent. 

Even during a pandemic, the Canadian job market displays clear seasonal patterns. As in years past, employers have started looking for workers to fill openings for holiday season jobs. Nonetheless, with the pandemic still raging and shoppers flocking online, seasonal demand for workers lags last year. 

We track holiday-related job postings by tallying the number of postings on Indeed Canada that include terms like “holiday”, “seasonal”, “Christmas,” and of course “Santa” in job titles, while excluding certain non-holiday terms like “labourer.” 

Overall, holiday-related hiring appetite is currently well below last year’s levels. In 2019, seasonal job postings started to ramp up in early September, but this year they only picked up in the second half of the month. The gap hasn’t closed much since. As of Nov. 2, Canadian holiday-related job postings were down 26% compared with last year’s trend, suggesting substantially less demand for seasonal labour toward year-end unless postings jump and reach a peak later this year.     

Demand for holiday-season workers is also weak relative to the broader economy. At the end of October, total Canadian job postings were down a less jarring 11% from last year’s trend.

Overall job postings in retail and sales-related roles, the two most common categories for holiday season postings, were off 6% and 23% respectively on October 30, compared with last year’s trend. Weak posting levels for sales positions was probably influenced by the weakness in holiday job recruitment ads themselves. Fewer shoppers and crowds means less traffic at some businesses, while others currently operating below capacity might not need to hire additional workers for the season. 

Job seekers less enthusiastic about seasonal work

The subdued start to holiday hiring is also evident in job seeker interest. As of early November, roughly 1.4 per 1,000 job searches on Indeed Canada included one holiday-related term, down from 2.2 per 1,000 at the same point last year. With malls and other seasonal venues not the same draw as in normal years and many holiday jobs requiring close contact with the public, searching for holiday work isn’t as attractive to Canadian job seekers as usual.

Large retailers lead the way in seasonal hiring

Holiday hiring appetite might be lagging last year, but there are still many seasonal positions employers want to fill, especially in the retail sector. Sales associate is among the most common. 

Nine of the ten employers with the most holiday job postings in Canada between September and early November were in the retail space. Electronics giants The Source and Best Buy rank second and third, while both Ontario and B.C.’s public alcohol retailers need workers to help with the extra holiday traffic. However, the company with the most holiday job postings this year was the only non-retailer among the top ten, Cherry Hill Programs. Their niche? Appropriately, Cherry Hill is a leading employer of Santas. 

Over time, the continued growth of ecommerce could significantly disrupt the winter seasonal hiring cycle. Of course, this year is unique, as coronavirus encourages Canadians to avoid crowded spaces. A key question for retailers in the years ahead is how much of the recent spike in online shopping represents a permanent shift. With gifts and other holiday products easily purchased online, the typical employment increases in certain segments of the retail sector as the holidays approach could be less dramatic even when the pandemic has passed. 

Methodology

We track holiday-related job postings by tallying job postings on Indeed Canada that use terms like ‘Christmas’, ‘xmas’, ‘santa’, ‘holiday’, ‘seasonal’, ‘advent’, as well as their French equivalents, while excluding terms like ‘technician’, ‘labourer’, ‘lifeguard’, that aren’t unique to the holiday season. We track job seeker interest in seasonal roles by counting the number of searchers on Indeed Canada using the same terms. All numbers referred to in the post represent seven-day moving averages.