Job jump met with cautious optimism

News of a job rise in Canada during the first month of 2002 is being met with tentative optimism by recruiters in the high-tech field.

Statistics Canada announced Friday that January saw the largest employment jump since 1994, bringing the unemployment rate down 0.1 percentage point to 7.9 per cent. But while January saw the creation of 76,000 new jobs in Canada, Randy Straeten, vice-president at recruitment company W5 Resources Inc. in Markham, Ont., said IT workers will have to hold on a bit longer to see their industry pick up.

“The IT curve is going to be a bit behind the general jobs for a while because IT hung in there for a while towards the end of the year and all the cuts started to happen,” he said. “We lost a lot of full-time kind of jobs and a lot of that StatsCan number was part-time.”

Straeten’s estimations of the statistic breakdown were correct, as part-time employment rose 46,000, more than 1.5 per cent, in January. Almost 19 per cent of employed people were working only part-time, putting that segment at its highest since mid-1999. That’s bad news for the immediate future of the high-tech industry, Straeten explained.

“Everyone (companies) did the head reduction and got them (employees) off the books so the shares look great and then they bring different people in on a part-time basis to get the work done,” he said. “IT typically is not that way because you don’t bring someone in for a couple of hours or a couple of days, you usually need them five days a week. I think this is a positive sign of things to come for IT, but not yet.”

Kirsten Watson, founder and president of Hire Top Talent Inc. in Ottawa said that while she didn’t see a significant amount of hiring in January, she did see some encouraging employment activity.

“What we have been seeing, on the tech side anyway, is that there has been some strategic hiring going on,” she said. “People are looking at bringing in some core, key positions at the executive level and there are some start-ups fishing around for CEOs, which should trickle downward. We have also seen quite a few people head into contract positions with government.”

However, Watson and the other staff at Hire Top Talent are expecting to see a real jump in job activity. “I think anyone in the high-tech sector will absolutely agree with the fact that we are just leaving a recession and there are a lot of people feeling it in this sector,” she said.

Straeten echoed that optimism, though he is predicting the real pick up will come a little later.

“The clients are saying that projects that had been put on hold indefinitely are going to get the go-ahead and from the candidates’ side, I think they are starting to do more interviewing, which is good because it was pretty stale there for a while,” he said. “The months of March and April will be good months for IT, I think.”

While the Statistics Canada report showed factory employment and paper production gaining, computer and electronic product manufacturing continued to decline in January. However, this latest statistic means that Canada generated more jobs last month that it has in the last 12 months combined and brought the number of employed in Canada to 15.2 million.

“It’s a positive sign,” Straeten said. “We joked that it was probably someone just keying in the numbers wrong or something like that, but however it happened, it is definitely a positive sign.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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