Employers are facing a crisis: there are plenty of available jobs, but no one seems to be filling them. What’s really going on?

According to a report released by RBC, job vacancies are at a high in Canada, with more than 800,000 open positions. This is double the level of job vacancies across the country from only five years ago. 

At the same time, the unemployment rate in Canada is sitting at 7.5 per cent. 

Most of the job vacancies are in minimum wage and part-time positions, especially in retail, accommodation, and the service industry. Many health care jobs are also vacant. 

While the pandemic has certainly played a role in exacerbating the issue, especially with the cycle of lockdowns and reopenings, there are other factors at play as well. 

Amber Wilks says employees could be relying on Employment Insurance (EI) and savings instead of working minimum wage positions because “it means you don’t have to put up with crappy employment standards.” 

“A lot of employers take advantage of workers because they know it’s [their employees’] only option to survive,” Wilks notes. “People are fed up.” 

Others blame the work shortage on government benefits like the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) or even EI, which can pay better than minimum wage positions. Another issue is that many of those who are unemployed are overqualified for the available jobs.

“I think the pandemic has made some people realize that the work that they do for too little money and really poor working conditions [isn’t worth it], and I think maybe people are starting to reconsider that and say if you’re not even going to give me 10 hours a week at my minimum wage job, maybe I’m going to hold out for something that I can actually pay my bills with,” says Ali Hammington, the president of Alberta Avenue Community League. 

“I don’t think that the pandemic or the government benefits are stopping people looking for work,” Hammington continues, “it’s just that people don’t want the jobs that are offered at low pay and with low security and with no benefits and where they’re being mistreated by their employers.”

Christina Ignacio-Deines notes that minimum wage is not a living wage. That has contributed to her decision to do contract work from home instead of seeking outside work. “Minimum wage barely covers childcare for two kids. They might as well be home with me while I pull my hair out balancing contract work. [The] same applies to part-time work.” 

Local non-profits and community leagues are among the organizations who have been unable to fill all of their vacant job positions, particularly jobs paid through the Canada Summer Jobs grant. 

Parkdale-Cromdale Community League is short two to three employees for their internship positions, and Alberta Avenue Community League is also short two positions. 

Kevin Wong, the president of Parkdale-Cromdale League, isn’t exactly sure why they have been unable to fill the positions, especially because in past years, there have always been several good candidates from which to choose. “We did one round of interviews [this year] and some of the candidates actually cancelled on the spot,” Wong says. 

Wong notes that the City of Edmonton also had a hard time hiring for their summer positions, even though they were able to offer higher pay than the community league. 

Karen Mykietka, the facility and office manager at Alberta Avenue Community League, has experienced a similar situation. “There [were] a fair number of applications. A lot of them were just not relevant to the job at all,” Mykietka says. “So, you go through [the hiring process] and you shortlist people and reach out to them and… either they don’t respond to getting an interview, or… they [ghost you, after they’ve been offered the job.]”

Mykietka explains these jobs are entry-level positions that pay minimum wage, which could be preventing some people from applying or accepting the job. But constantly going through the hiring and HR process is frustrating, she says. 

“If everybody’s experiencing a hard time, maybe it’s time to host a job fair collectively,” notes Wong, even if that fair happens virtually. 

Melissa Owen notes that it’s likely many people are applying, but aren’t’ being considered for jobs because of the online ATS systems (HR software that processes applications), so employers may not be seeing the resumes. “Most employers insist on people applying electronically. Perhaps it would be to their benefit to actually take walk-in applications again,” Owen suggests. 

This trend of high unemployment and increased job vacancies is expected to continue in the coming months. “Higher pay may be necessary to attract and retain talent,” says Carrie Freestone in the RBC report.