HR Insights: Shifting Business and Workforce Priorities Amid a Global Pandemic (Part 1)


The latest HR Insights are in for April! COVID-19 and other current events have impacted businesses and employment across Canada. 


Unemployment soars to historical highs across Canada

The national workforce and Canadian economy have been drastically altered in recent months, as a result of the novel coronavirus. Statistics Canada reported over three million jobs lost in March and April, as the unemployment rate soared to 13%. Job losses of this magnitude are the second-highest in Canadian history when compared to unemployment rates in 1982. Quebec was the hardest hit with 821,000 (19%) job losses. On a positive note, employment rates in the territories have not been impacted as significantly as the rest of Canada.

Employers representing at least 32,750 workers responded to our employer survey, to share how their workforce has been affected by the changing economy.

Respondent Profile for April

75 respondents (72 in English; 3 in French) represent at least 32,750 employees in Canada.

  • Geographical distribution among businesses was widespread.
  • All company sizes responded.
    • 65% had fewer than 100 employees.
    • Top industries were: Professional, scientific, and technical services; Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting; Manufacturing.
  • 95% have environmental employees; 38% indicated all of their staff are environmental workers.
    • Employers were involved in a variety of environmental sub-sectors ranging from Sustainability to Water Quality, Environmental Assessments to Nature Conservation.

Impacts felt across companies of all types, sizes, and locations

COVID-19 and depressed oil and gas markets have negatively impacted almost 43% of businesses surveyed. Overall, business operations have been reduced and locations are partially closed for the duration of the pandemic, primarily due to project delays or contract cancellations, budget or funding cuts, and restrictions on non-essential travel and services.

“Clients’ budgets are tighter and thus spending less on our services. We have temporarily suspended hiring and are tightening our own budgets.”

Environmental firms fare better

For employers with environmental workers, about 27% are negatively impacted to a certain degree by COVID-19 and over 16% are negatively impacted by the decline in oil and gas markets. Despite mandated restrictions to business operations, approximately 7% are busier than usual or are adapting by expanding and shifting their products or services.  Further, close to 20% of employers are currently hiring to support growth and replacement for environmental workers.

Environmental staffing remains unchanged for 48% of employers and 4% have gown their workforce.  While approximately 30% have downsized, most respondents anticipate staffing changes to be temporary.

“The same number of us are working harder, given COVID-19. Everything takes more time, more work.”

“No change at the moment but may affect ability to bring on summer positions.”

Business and workforce retention programs offer temporary relief

Government support and assistance intended to support Canadian companies impacted by COVID-19 have been rolled out in recent months. Most respondents are aware of resources available to them to address their business and workforce challenges such as income support, availability of credit or loans, and deferral of deadlines for tax payments. Approximately 19% of respondents were aware of, using or planning to use wage subsidy programs.

Employers require additional labour market measures to support the management of their workforce:

  • many respondents are waiting for the results of their Canada Summer Student Jobs applications.
  • some respondents also want to see the availability of low cost or free online training platforms to occupy idle staff.
  • some also expressed the need for financial support to access/implement improved technology to help increase worker productivity.
  • some respondents wondered whether stimulus funding/capital projects by governments will be introduced to boost environmental sector activities in support of a reduction in contracts for oil and gas and other industries.

HR priorities have shifted to retain and manage the current workforce

Due to uncertainty, many companies have put future workforce plans on hold, however 13% of total employer respondents will be hiring for the remainder of the year. Employers are primarily concerned about health and safety, remote management, and workforce retention. As a strategy to maintain their workforce, most employers are providing flexible work arrangements, supporting remote employees, and promoting work-life balance.

For more details, please contact research@eco.ca


Funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Sectoral Initiatives Program. The opinions and interpretations in this publication are ECO Canada’s and do not necessarily reflect those held by the Government of Canada.

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