High unemployment despite employers looking for employees

“People are not comfortable returning to work right now”

Article by Valerie MacDonald

Even before the pandemic hit last spring, this labour region of the province was experiencing a higher unemployment rate before it peaked at 12% last year, members of Northumberland County’s Economic Development Committee were told on March 3.

The rate was higher than the provincial and federal levels, Sean Dooley of Workforce Development Board told members. Fourteen percent of workers who didn’t lose their job outright experienced a reduction in hours of work, he added.

The labour region under discussions covers a wide area from Muskoka, Haliburton, City of Kawartha Lakes, and Peterborough to Northumberland.

In January, unemployment figures fell somewhat to almost 10% with local employers looking for workers.

Those who have suffered in the labour scene the most in 2020 were those over 55, both female and male, as well as part-time and full-time workers.

Youth, it was reported, are dropping out of the labour market but whether that is due to returning to school or seeking skills in other ways, or due to discouragement is not known.

“It’s certainly something to keep an eye on,” Dooley said.

The Conference Board of Canada’s information on Northumberland specifically, is that from 2021 to 2040, employment opportunities will be in construction, retail and health care.

The County’s economic development director, Dan Borowec, noted the high-ageing demographic in the area, and that the focus needs to be on improving skills quickly for workers, along with another of attracting new Canadians; both strategies which Northumberland is pursuing.

Despite this need, Shanthi Rajaratnam of Service System Management told the committee there is low participation in skills training programs by those over 55 as well as youth under 25. At the same time she noted, there are employers needing workers who aren’t available.

“People are not comfortable returning to work right now” because of the ongoing pandemic, she said, adding that this is “a bit of a trend.”

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