Are Your Occupational Skills Up to Muster?

Over half of all employed Canadians (52.7%) are working in occupations that value and require active learning skills. “Active learning” involves having the ability to understand the implications of new information for both current and future problem-solving and decision-making.

There is now a notable increase in the proportion of workers employed in a variety of occupations where active learning is vital to success. In fact, approximately 73% of all occupations require workers to have reading comprehension, 59% of all occupations require writing skills, and 57.4% require workers to have complex solving skills.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, demand for workers who possess these skills has dramatically increased leaving some workers behind while presenting new opportunities for others. However, employers are continuing to struggle to fill vacant positions that require such skill sets, and many existing workers are trying to update themselves with such skills.

Popular belief holds that many workers simply are unwilling to return back to work, however, as of December 2021 the labour force has returned to its near pre-pandemic (December 2019) level. But the same can not be said about the distribution of workers.

The populations and labour forces of Alberta and Saskatchewan have remained roughly the same since the beginning of the pandemic, however, Canada’s population and labour force has actually grown nationally.

Labour Force Characteristics (‘000,000)




Dec 2021Pre-Covid



Dec 2021Pre-Covid



Dec 2021
Labour Force2.52.420.220.50.610.60
Participation Rate70.7%69.2%65.5%65.3%68.8%67.5%
Unemployment Rate7.07.3%5.6%5.9%5.7%5.4%
Employment Rate65.8%64.2%61.8%61.5%64.8%63.8%

Source: Data is from Statistics Canada

Approximately 75% of Canada’s population growth was a result of immigration. In October 2020, the Government of Canada launched its post-recovery plan. This plan set annual immigration goals of approximately 400,000 new immigrants each year between 2021-2023. Since launching the post-recovery plan, Canada has welcomed approximately 584,000 new residents to Canada. In fact, the Government of Canada estimates that by 2036, immigrants will represent up to 30% of Canada’s population, compared with 20.7% in 2011.

Immigration has accounted for almost 100% of Canada’s labor force growth. Canada has used immigration as a means to address labour shortages in key sectors of the economy, such as health care. As of December 2021, immigrants make up 37% of pharmacists, 36% of physicians, 39% of dentists, 23% of registered nurses, and 35% of nurse aides and other healthcare-related occupations. In fact, more newcomers to Canada are employed now than before the pandemic.

Employment rates amongst core-aged immigrants who arrived more than five years ago is approximately 82.6% and employment rates amongst core-aged people born in Canada are approximately 85.5%.

Unemployment rates continue to remain slightly higher than pre-pandemic levels in Alberta (7.3%) and Canada (5.9%), Saskatchewan has bounced back with a slightly lower unemployment rate (5.4%) than pre-pandemic levels (5.7%). However, despite the unemployment, employment, and participation rates nearing the pre-pandemic levels, the industries where workers are finding employment have shifted.

Employment by Industry

 Alberta (‘000)Canada (‘000,000)Saskatchewan (‘000)



Dec 2021Pre-Covid



Dec 2021Pre-Covid



Dec 2021
Good-Producing Sector577.6535.63.93.9141.9125.9
Natural Resources136.1142.80.310.3220.719.5
Services Producing Sector1760.11754.815.215.4437.2442.7
Wholesale and retail trade339.6356.12.82.983.995.5
Transportation and



Finance, insurance, real


estate, rental, and leasing

Professional, scientific,


and technical services

Business, building and


other support services

Educational Services163.5163.81.31.447.046.3
Healthcare and


Social Assistance

Information, culture and



Accommodation and


food services

Other Services (except


public administration)

Public Administration107.3110.

Source: Data is from Statistics Canada

The industries that have lost the most workers in Alberta have been Agriculture (-35%), Utilities (-28%), and Accommodation and Food Services (-19%). The industries that have had the largest increases in the number of workers have been Finance, Insurance, Real Estate, Rental and Leasing (+7.8%), Natural Resources (+4.9%), and Wholesale and Retail (+4.9%).

Saskatchewan’s Agriculture (-39.%), Information, Culture, Recreation (-27%), and Accommodation and Food Services (-22%) were the industries that had the most number of workers leave. Major increases in Saskatchewan industries occurred in Utilities (+14.3%), Wholesale and Retail Trade (+13.8%), and Healthcare and Social Assistance (+12.3%).

In addition to changing industries, there also have been changes between occupations from pre-pandemic to December 2021.

Based on the number of people by occupation for Canada, the number of males and females employed has increased and they are working more average hours weekly now than in 2019. There are now more unionized workers and slightly more non-union workers both working more average hours per week and an increase in the number of permanent employees.

Number of People by occupation and Average Weekly Hours Pre-Covid v. December 2021

Canada(‘000,000s) People 2019(‘000,000) People 2021Avg Weekly Hours 2019Avg Weekly Hours 2021
Management occupations1.01.139.739.5
Business, finance, and administration, occupations2.83.035.635.5
Natural and applied sciences and related occupations1.31.638.438.5
Health occupations1.11.333.933.8
Occupations in education, law, and social community and government services1.
Occupations  in art, culture, recreation, and sport0.30.329.531.1
Sales and services occupations4.13.830.330.2
Trades, transport and equipment operators, and related occupations2.22.239.739.6
Natural Resources, agriculture, and related production0.20.242.541.2
Occupations in manufacturing and utilities0.70.739.438.8

Source: Data from Statistics Canada

The largest increases in occupations have been in the Natural and Applied Sciences and related occupations (+23%), Health occupations (+18.2%), and Management (+10%). The occupation that has had the largest decrease has been in Sales and Services falling by approximately 273,000 (-7.3%) people, marking the largest occupational decline across all major occupational groups in Canada.

As Canadian workers shift industries and occupations in the new COVID-19 world, older workers set into retirement, and more new Canadians are welcomed, workers will need to improve or shift their former occupational skills to meet labour market demands, simply by asking … Are your occupational skills up to Mustard?

Gerard Lucyshyn is an economist and an economics lecturer in the Department of Economics, Justice and Policy Studies at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta. He has also served as a business and economic consultant to a variety of industries. Gerard has authored a number of articles and research papers on municipal, provincial, federal and international economic and policy issues.

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