As the Canadian economy continues to slow, Canada’s job market is changing, and that’s had an effect on the skills that employers are looking for.
In 2023, amid record-low levels of unemployment, large swaths of the labour market faced skills and staffing shortages. But 2023 saw the labour market swing back in favour of employers as the unemployment rate ticks up.
Meanwhile, 2023 also saw the rise of generative artificial intelligence (AI), as well as an unprecedented number of cyberattacks against large organizations.
Here’s a look at some of the top skills and industries that will be in high demand in 2024.
A SLOWING ECONOMY
The year started with an unemployment rate of five per cent in January, close to the record lows of 4.9 per cent that we saw in the summer of 2022. But over the course of 2023, the unemployment rate has slowly creeped up amid repeated interest rate hikes from the Bank of Canada aimed at slowing down economic activity. As of November 2023, Canada’s unemployment rate stands at 5.8 per cent.
“It’s not the same job seekers’ market that it was at the start of 2022, when really across the economy employers were looking to add workers basically in almost every type of job,” said Brendon Bernard, senior economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab.
The technology sector, in particular, has seen steep declines in hiring. This past year saw major layoffs at several large tech companies such as Shopify, Amazon, Microsoft and Spotify.
According to a November report from the Indeed Hiring Lab, software development and IT operations were the two sectors with the biggest declines in the number of job postings in Canada. Compared to November 2022, the number of job postings in these two sectors dropped 53 per cent and 48 per cent, respectively.
“From my conversations with (tech) employers, it was really common for candidates to have multiple offers, being able to play job offers from one to another to get the best salary,” said Bernard. “It’s really come back down to earth since and it’s sort of the balance has now shifted back in the employers’ favour.”
However, not all sectors have been affected by the economic slowdown. The health-care sector continues to face significant labour shortages, with pharmacy, therapy, dental and nursing among the sectors that saw the smallest decline in the number of postings, according to the Indeed Hiring Lab.
“A lot of health-care employment is in the public sector, so hiring isn’t going to be impacted by the same cyclical forces that impact private sector hiring,” he said.
Bernard says this is especially true as Canada’s population gets older, with demand for care only expected to rise.
“The key factor underpinning strong demand for health-care workers, be it doctors, nurses or personal support workers, is just the aging population. That’s not a trend that’s really going to be impacted by whether the economy is having strong year,” he said.
Tarek Sadek, executive director Toronto Metropolitan University’s Centre for Engineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship, says given the slower economy, many employers will be hiring for “what is needed” rather than “what is possible.”
“(Among the) top industries we believe is going to be hiring is cybersecurity,” said Sadek. “Cybersecurity, I believe it’s going to continue regardless (of the economy) because this fits in with what is needed, not just what is possible.”
Last year, many large Canadian organizations have experienced cyberattacks, including hospitals, library systems, retailers, grocery stores, school boards and even government agencies. With cybersecurity becoming more top of mind among companies and organizations, experts tell CTVNews.ca demand for jobs in this field is only going to go up.
“A big one that’s been in conversation with many of our clients is connected to cybersecurity. We are seeing, whether it’s in the news and a lot of times it’s behind the scenes, data breaches, hacking attempts, cyberattacks, phishing … on a regular basis,” Mike Shekhtman, senior regional director at recruitment agency Robert Half.
A report from CDW Canada this past summer found that cybersecurity breaches had more than doubled among Canadian businesses, with 62 per cent of organizations surveyed saying they were facing an IT security skills gap.
Shekhtman notes that hiring dedicated cybersecurity positions may be only possible in larger organizations, but he says smaller companies might start to require cybersecurity skills as an “add-on” to some of their existing positions.
“People with those skill sets are going to be high in demand,” he said.
THE AI FACTOR
This past year also saw the rise of generative AI tools like ChatGPT, a trend that could have major implications for the job market going forward, experts say.
“The kind of maturity we’re reaching with AI right now, actually, is changing the game a little bit. Even small companies, even individuals can improve their productivity using AI,” said Sadek.
The number of jobs asking for AI skills still remains small, but has been surging. Generative AI was mentioned in 0.06 per cent of job postings as of the end of October, according to Indeed.com’s report, up from “virtually zero” in 2023.
“I expect more of exponential growth in the next year or two,” Sadek predicts.
But experts also note the rise of this technology also means demand for some jobs, particularly repetitive jobs, are going to go down. Indeed.com’s report on jobs and hiring trends in Canada for 2024 found that 55 per cent of Canadian job postings have “moderate exposure” to changes driven by AI, while 21 per cent had “high exposure.”
“Anything to do with … repetitive high volume, data entry-related positions, I think that’s going to be one of the higher or most impacted positions that can see generative AI replace,” Shekhtman said.
On the other hand, Bernard says jobs that require any sort of “physicality” such as construction or personal care are less likely to be replaced by AI, compared to white-collar jobs.
“It’s not like AI isn’t just going to take all of these (white-collar) jobs. But I think one potential way to get ahead is actually thinking about familiarizing oneself with these new tools and sort of finding a way of taking advantage of the new technology to sort of augment their role,” he said.
Interpersonal soft skills are going to be even more important in the age of AI, according to Sadek. These include creativity, adaptability, critical thinking, problem solving, time management, emotional intelligence and communication.
“AI will help us to be more productive, but it’s not going to replace us,” he said.
Shekhtman says this is especially true after the pandemic-induced changes to how we work.
“The ability to communicate effectively and have the critical thinking in today’s landscape is probably more evident than ever before,” he said.
“Whether it’s managing remote and hybrid teams, as added layer complexity to pulling projects together… it’s going to be something that many executives are going to look for in terms of examples of how people have been able to adapt and drive businesses forward.”