Mapping Canada's wages

July 20, 2017

Every month, you probably catch some news about labour statistics in Canada. Maybe it’s the national unemployment rate, the number of new jobs in your province, or how many of these jobs are full- or part-time. But as any job seeker or business owner will tell you, these figures alone do not tell the full story of Canada's labour market.

In June 2017, Statistics Canada released the first data on paid wages from the Job Vacancy and Wages Survey (JVWS). These data are the latest addition to the agency’s extensive labour statistics, and give significant information about the demand side of the job market: specifically, what type of workers employers have hired and how much they pay them for their labour.

As StatCan’s largest business survey, the JVWS provides an incredibly detailed account of jobs across the country, by type of occupation, industry, wage and region. The JVWS collects data on about 500 different occupations in 76 economic regions (usually sub-provincial areas that incorporate a large city or several smaller communities). 

The national picture

The survey data on job vacancies, which have been released regularly since the first quarter of 2015, confirmed some trends that seem fairly obvious: job vacancies are highest in regions where unemployment is low, and lowest in regions where unemployment is high. Job vacancies are most common in low-paying occupations, and vacant jobs take longest to fill in high-skills occupations.

The data released in June 2017 add more detail. They show that nearly one-quarter of Canadian jobs in 2016 were in sales and service, a category that includes occupations such as retail salespeople, insurance agents, butchers, tour guides and janitors. Of all 10 broad occupational groups, this category also had the highest rate of part-time jobs and the lowest average wage of $18.85 per hour.

The country’s highest average wage in 2016 could be found in Wood Buffalo–Cold Lake, Alberta, where the oils sands project is underway. Workers across all occupations earned an average of $36.50 per hour. Meanwhile, the average wage in Edmunston–Woodstock, New Brunswick, was the lowest in Canada, at $19.40 per hour.

As an occupation, specialist physicians earned the highest hourly wage ($86.75) in 2016. The lowest paid workers in the country? Bartenders, who earned an average of $11.50 per hour. (Keep in mind that the JVWS did not include tips.) 

A local guide

But with data on so many occupations, for precise locations, the survey can also help policy makers and job seekers answer specific questions about the job market. For instance:

  • How many nursing jobs are vacant in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland?

In the economic region of Lower Mainland–Southwest in British Columbia, there were 810 vacancies for registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses in the first quarter of 2017 (the most recent available data).

  • If you’re looking for work as a construction manager in the North, in which territory can you earn the best wage?

The Northwest Territories. In 2016, construction managers in the Northwest Territories earned an average of $60.55 per hour, which was slightly higher than the hourly wage in Nunavut ($59.00). Moving to Yukon, however, would involve a large pay cut. Construction managers in that territory earned, on average, $41.55 per hour.

  • How much should an Ottawa contractor pay her carpenters?

The average wage earned by Ottawa carpenters was $26.65 per hour in 2016.

  • Which specialization will direct a Nova Scotian business student toward a more lucrative career: accounting or marketing?

Professional occupations in advertising, marketing and public relations in Nova Scotia payed an average of $33.80 per hour in 2016, compared with $24.20 for financial auditors and accountants. However, if the student’s main interest is earning a lot of money, she should consider applying to medical school—or at least aim for management, where the average wage across all occupations was $40.25 per hour.

Collecting the data

Although JVWS data help us answer questions about practical, everyday concerns, collecting them is a complicated process. Developed in the summer of 2014, the JVWS samples 100,000 businesses, specifically those categorized as “business locations”: retail outlets and service providers. Quy Do, Senior Economist in StatCan’s Labour Statistics Division, gives a sense of the survey’s scale: “When you walk down the street, you’ll see nine businesses, and one out of those nine businesses will be in our survey.”

Besides the scale of the survey, the fine level of detail poses a challenge. Five hundred occupations in 76 regions creates a lot of categories—and, as Ms. Do points out: “100,000 locations spread across those domains can lead to very small numbers per variable.”

Getting precise data also involves asking detailed questions, and having particular definitions of wage and occupations. The JVWS creators had to explain to employers how to answer the survey questions. “You have to educate your respondents about occupation categories, who should be included in employment, what kind of wage should be recorded, what should be excluded from wages—‘do not include tips, do not include overtime pay’—it’s a challenge in collection.”

JVWS data on job vacancies were first released in August 2015. June 2017 marked the first time that the data on paid wages were made available. Going forward, job vacancy data will continue to be released quarterly while the data on paid wages will be released annually. Together, these data will give us a better understanding of what is happening in the Canadian job market.

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