Letter to the Editor: Tech employment – Are we counting the people properly?
By Ottawa Business Journal Staff
Wed, Feb 15, 2006 2:00 PM EST

There are large discrepancies between the numbers employed according to Statistics Canada, as opposed to the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation (OCRI); more particularly, in some cases the trends (e.g. layoffs and hirings) indicated by the OCRI numbers give a wildly over-optimistic picture

As an example, according to Statistics Canada for the information and communication technology sector there were 72,400 employed at the peak in May 2000. The nearest comparable OCRI figure, for June 2000, was 73,000. Between May 2000 and July 2002, the Statistics Canada number dropped to 47,000 – a decrease of 25,400. By contrast, the OCRI figure for June 2002 was 72,000, indicating a drop from June 2000 to June 2002 of only 1,000!

Part of the problem here is basic differences between OCRI's surveys as opposed to Statistics Canada's; that said, it is extremely dangerous to try painting an optimistic picture by looking at the OCRI numbers alone. Both sets of numbers have been reported in the local newspapers.

The Carleton University report of June 2 2005,Steering on Black Ice, also notes the contradiction between the OCRI numbers and Statistics Canada s.

A drop in numbers employed over a given period does not necessarily indicate the same increase in numbers out of work and wanting work.

For instance, a decrease of 1,000 in the number employed may in fact mean 3,000 layoffs partly compensated by 2,000 hirings. New jobs created are likely to be in different companies from those that laid people off, leading to obvious skills mismatch problems for at least some of the people affected. Some or all of the 2,000 people hired may be new immigrants to Ottawa (from overseas, or elsewhere in Canada) or new graduates – who were not amongst the 3,000 people laid off, or other people out of work who were also not amongst the 3,000 laid off.

The total official labour force for the whole of Ottawa-Gatineau is only about 600,000, out of a total population of about 1.1 million. Confusion over the numbers of jobs needed to employ those out of work is obviously not acceptable, partly because of what it means for the tax base.

You can only track properly what happens to people laid off, and count the number actually needing jobs, if you know who they are – for instance, through their SIN numbers. Nobody is doing this.

The official unemployment numbers given out monthly by Statistics Canada are useless because Ottawa s Hidden Workforce of 1998 showed that most unemployed people are hidden within the group classified as Not in the Labour Force. The number of official unemployed averaged 38,800 for 1997, out of an official labour force of 442,500. After Bob Chiarelli (now Mayor Bob Chiarelli) saw the report, on Oct. 3 1998 he challenged local business to create 145,000 new jobs – almost four times what the number of official unemployed would suggest!

No wonder we now see somewhere between 300 and 5,000 people applying for every job open.

And no wonder foreign-trained professionals have trouble. How can they and everyone else out of work get jobs, when the numbers of jobs needed is constantly under-reported by a factor of four?

Go figure.

Robert T. Chisholm