The scarcity of labor has been the hot topic since life has returned to normal. This is first and foremost a major concern for all businesses, to the point where the question arises. But where have the workers gone?

Short answer: they are at work, and more than ever. In Quebec, there are currently 183,000 more people working than before the pandemic.

Labor has never been so plentiful and there is talk of a shortage? Yes, but that can be explained.

“Workers have not disappeared, they have changed careers,” observes Emna Braham, president of the Institut du Québec. When we say that people have returned to work, it is true. But they found better paying and more satisfying jobs. »

The health sector also has fewer employees than before the pandemic, despite government recruitment efforts.

It is in these sectors that the scarcity of labor is most apparent for the population, even if there are recruitment difficulties elsewhere, in factories for example.

The service sector is particularly affected by the scarcity of labour, because demand is exploding for services of all kinds. “There are two phenomena that come together,” says Jacques Nantel, a retired HEC Montréal professor and still a keen observer of retail.

First is pent-up demand for services that were unavailable during the pandemic.

The other phenomenon is that once retired, baby boomers have become full-time consumers of services. “When we retire, we normally have everything we need [in terms of goods], so of course the older we are, the more services we consume,” says Jacques Nantel.

In retirement, baby boomers also have a strong desire to enjoy the time they have left. They have means that their parents did not necessarily have to afford restaurants, travel, spas, hairdressing, massages and others.

And those who do not have these means go into debt, notes the specialist, who points out that the level of indebtedness of people aged 65 and over has never been so high.

These two phenomena that are fueling the demand for services, namely pent-up demand and the massive influx of retiring baby boomers, will fade over time, believes Jacques Nantel.

There are more active workers than before the pandemic in Quebec and the jobs they hold are of better quality, also notes the Institut du Québec.

The criteria used to judge the quality of jobs are all on the rise.

The sectors that have gained the most workers since 2019 are construction (58,000) and education (56,000).

Involuntary part-time work has also decreased, from 13% of this category in 2019 to 8% in 2023. There are also fewer self-employed workers, “probably because they are recruited by companies when the market tightens” , she says.

The pandemic has been an electroshock for several workers who have changed jobs. But the Quebec labor market in 2023 is no different from what it was before the pandemic, and when the retirement of baby boomers was well underway.

“This is the largest cohort we have known. That’s a lot of people to replace with a labor pool that’s growing more slowly than before. »

The number of job vacancies, which hit a record high last year, was put forward to illustrate the labor shortage. This is an indicator that mainly reflects the fact that the Quebec economy was on a path that it had not seen for a long time, which accelerated job creation.

The number of vacancies is a good measure of business expectations, says Emna Braham. “It’s not necessarily jobs, it’s what we anticipate, she summarizes. Vacancies should not be taken for cash. »

With the economic slowdown, companies’ appetite for hiring has calmed down. The number of vacancies is falling, reflecting business concerns about a possible recession.

There are 183,000 more workers in May 2023 than in May 2019, before the pandemic.