The number of healthcare and social assistance sector workers in Guelph has dropped dramatically since the start of the pandemic, shows the latest labour force survey from Statistics Canada.
Between March of 2020 and the end of last month, the number of people employed in those sectors fell from about 13,000 to between 5,900 and 7,399.
“It’s quite a fall,” said Charlene Hofbauer, executive director of the Workplace Planning Board for Waterloo Wellington and Dufferin, who called it a “very surprising” trend. “This is very concerning for employment and for the community in the middle of a pandemic.”
Personal support worker and nursing positions have been particularly hard hit, she said, suggesting burnout is a “big factor” but not the only one.
“That conversation was happening pre-pandemic and the pandemic has actually exacerbated that issue,” Hofbauer said. “There’s a lot more being asked, a lot more challenges and it’s contributing to burnout, which is contributing to people deciding to leave the sector.”
It’s not clear how many male healthcare and social assistance sector workers there are in the city, as the number has dropped below the Statistics Canada threshold of 1,500 people to release the figure, explained Hofbauer. There are, however, a reported 5,900 women working in those sectors in Guelph.
The industry consistently lost people between March and November but has seen a “slight rise” since then.
Other reasons for the decrease could include the provincial requirement that people work at one healthcare facility, rather than hold multiple part-time or casual positions, implemented last summer, Hofbauer noted, as well as family obligations.
She believes the latter may play a significant role in the overall fall in the number of people working in the city, especially women. Workers aged 45 to 54 alone dropped from 21,400 to 17,000 between last March and the end of January.
While some survey data showed anticipated trends, Hofbauer said, other info was a surprise, like the growth in retail workers from 7,100 to 9,700.
“We are shocked that retail trade has grown so much,” she said. “Obviously there were some retailers out there who kept their people, grew maybe a little bit because they were offering different types of consumer experiences.
“We’re very happy to see retail trade, which tends to be a bigger industry, did grow.”
Of note is that the employment figures include online and in-person store workers, but doesn’t include popular online shopping outlet Amazon because it’s considered a distributor and not retail, she said.
Another surprise for the local labour planning board is the reduction in educational service jobs, from 12,400 to 6,700.
“Those losses in the operational part of our post-secondary institutions has been large,” said Hofbauer. “Those are the people who do everything from working at Tim Hortons doing event catering … and maybe some positions from school boards where teachers who have left early.”
Also unexpected is growth in professional, scientific and technical services, from 6,300 to 7,300.
“That employment has been driven by men securing positions, although there has been some increased hiring of women in the past couple of months,” notes a labour planning board news release. “In January, the industry added 1,300 positions for both men and women whereas the 600 positions lost in April 2020 were all held by women.”
On the anticipated end of things, Hofbauer said, is a loss in accommodation and food service jobs, from 5,700 to 4,800; as well as growth in manufacturing jobs (at 21,300, up from 15,000).
“The variations between industry employment levels really shows how this pandemic is not targeting any one sector over another,” Hofbauer said in a news release. “Sudden employment drops in industries that seemed to be surging just 5 months ago demonstrate that any industry could face an uncertain future.
“In some cases, these drops are due to restructuring or shifts in demand and in some cases, such as with health care, we may be facing a workforce that is not participating in opportunities which will have long-term implications for those sectors.”