A struggle to find full-time work – B.C.’s economy gained part-time jobs in December at expense of full-time employment

posted on January 10, 2014

By Jenny Lee, Tiffany Crawford, and Derrick Penner, Vancouver Sun | Link to Article

Ella Ho’s full-time, permanent job evaporated last March when her University of B.C. department was reorganized.

By Jenny Lee, Tiffany Crawford, and Derrick Penner, Vancouver Sun | Link to Article

Ella Ho’s full-time, permanent job evaporated last March when her University of B.C. department was reorganized.

The 41-year-old administrative assistant has been scrounging part-time contracts ever since.

“With two young kids and two elderly parents to support, I’ve found myself desperately looking for work,” Ho said.

Few employers are posting full-time work, she said. Part-time jobs are out there, but at $23 or $24 an hour, the pay is lower than permanent full-time and there’s no stability, she said.

“I have a very solid record. Good references,” said Ho, a career administrative assistant with broad experience. “I’ve got a university degree in psychology as well as a Legal Administrative Assistant certificate and a bookkeeping certificate. I’m a high-level admin assistant, and am very flexible with the positions for which I can apply, yet I still find myself underemployed.”

Ho’s experience isn’t unique, according to Statistics Canada’s December jobs report, which showed a big increase in jobs, but on the part-time side, while full-time employment declined.

Statistics Canada says there were 13,000 more people working in B.C. last month, mostly in part-time jobs.

The province gained around 23,000 part-time jobs, but that was offset by the 10,000 full-time positions shed. The agency says the unemployment rate in the province was virtually unchanged at 6.6 per cent as more people participated in the labour market.

For Ho, it’s not that she lacks computer skills, or that secretarial work has been rendered obsolete by technology, she said. Every job posting tests her Word and Excel abilities. “I actually do quite well in those things,” she said.

But for the first time in her career, full-time jobs seem to be few and far between. The few permanent job postings she has found demand higher qualifications than she’s needed in the past, such as degrees or a background in business administration. “They know they’ve got a lot of people applying.”

“I was lucky to be at UBC. I thought I was safe there,” Ho said, but academia is dependent on funding and she’s seen a lot of jobs lost in the field.

Jason Gilmore, a data analyst with Statistics Canada, said Friday that there is no one industry driving the growth in part-time positions. Overall, employment growth the past year has been in finance, insurance, real estate and leasing, while decreasing in education and construction.

However, Statistics Canada data suggests that educational services, which includes university and college employees, is one of a handful of sectors where part-time employment is increasing while full-time employment has declined.

Industry tables available through Statistics Canada’s website show that the finance and insurance sector, information culture and recreation — which includes publishing, broadcasting and telecommunications — and accommodation and food services as other industry classifications heading toward more part-time work, however economist Bryan Yu cautioned against reading too much of trend into those numbers.

Yu, an economist for Central 1 Credit Union, said drilling into the Stats Can labour-force data reduces the size of the survey sample that results are being extrapolated, so they become less reliable.

Even the big overall December jump in part-time employment could be reversed next month, “so you need a few months of continuous data” to see the trend.

What Yu, an economist with Central 1 Credit Union, does find concerning is that the last few months have seen full-time employment declining at the end of a year in which the job market was the weakest it has been since 2001.

“It underpins this theme for the last year,” Yu said. “Actually, it’s probably a year you want to forget in terms of the labour market.”

On Thursday, the left-leaning Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a report that shows the province remains “a long way from the pre-recession benchmarks” for labour market performance.

In the report, author Iglika Ivanova wrote that B.C.’s employment rate of working-age British Columbians — 71 per cent — is “effectively unchanged” since Premier Christy Clark launched her BC Jobs Plan in 2011, and is “almost as low as during the recession.”

Regional strong points such as B.C.’s north, notwithstanding, “there were almost no job gains (in 2013),” Yu said.

B.C. still stands in contrast to Canada’s national unemployment rate, which rose to 7.2 per cent for the final month of the year, from 6.9 per cent in November.

Economists had expected the economy to add 14,600 jobs and the unemployment rate to hold steady at 6.9 per cent, according to estimates compiled by Thomson Reuters. Instead it lost a surprising 45,900 jobs in December.

In B.C., after losing full-time employment Ho scoured employment posting websites, followed up on all leads and talked to all her friends and acquaintances to get the word out. She eventually got onto Vancouver Community College’s casual “on-call” list. Her assignments last anywhere from one to three months and the number of hours vary. At the moment, she’s working 20 hours a week. While she’s grateful for the work, she still hopes to secure more hours or a full-time position.

She’s had to cash out a large portion of her pension pay from UBC to make ends meet.

Now she’s thinking about going back to school to study social work. “There’s work there, supposedly,” she said. “I’m 41 and I don’t want to be struggling still even 10 years from now. If I do a social work program now, in two years, I could be somebody. ‘I’m a social worker. I’ve got this profession. Hire me.’”

Steve Hunt, United Steelworkers director for Western Canada said full-time permanent jobs are being replaced by temporary jobs as workers retire and their positions are filled by temporary foreign workers. “The mine in Tumbler Ridge applied for and was granted 200 jobs for temporary foreign workers.”

Facts and figures about B.C.’s job market in December (compared with November):

• Unemployment rate: 6.6% (6.7%)

• Number unemployed: 163,400 (163,700)

• Number working: 2,309,100 (2,296,300)

• Youth (15-24 years) unemployment rate: 14.1% (13.2 %)

• Youth (15-24 years) part-time employment rate: 48.6% (43.5%)

• Men (25-plus) unemployment rate: 5.1% (5.2%)

• Men (25-plus) part-time employment rate: 9.9% (9.2%)

• Women (25-plus) unemployment rate: 5.6% (5.9%)

• Women (25-plus) part-time employment rate: 27% (27.5%)

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