Month: July 2020

Tourism businesses have gradually started to reopen and recall workers that have been furloughed for months. The process has been met with trepidation and confusion, and with some workers refusing to return to work, many for legitimate reasons.

The Struggle with Recalling Workers

Employers are seeking assistance on making decisions on whom they bring back, when, and how to avoid possible liabilities. Employers have also expressed uncertainty about bringing workers back, citing concerns about financial stability and whether they are able to offer steady, predictable employment without the possibility of laying workers off once again.

Questions on the duration or utility of the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program and added uncertainty on the opening of borders or lifting of other restrictions limiting tourism have made it a difficult and risky proposition to decide whether to sustain operations, and hence whether it is feasible to rehire workers.

The bottom line: businesses are not yet profitable and struggle to operate on highly reduced revenues. In addition, the requirements to operate safely during this pandemic have added significantly to the costs of doing business while limiting the number of guests operators can feasibly serve.

Tourism HR Canada just completed a pan-Canadian Workforce Impact Survey for the tourism sector. Only 6% of businesses reported being fully open, while another 60% indicated they were open but with limitations or restrictions. Nearly 31% declared they were temporary closed. When asked if they were planning to open this summer, 22% of respondents indicated they would not be opening, and another 32% said they didn’t know.

Of the top workforce issues for tourism businesses, the Workforce Impact Survey revealed that 42% of employers were concerned about hiring enough workers for the summer season.

To understand this challenge, employers were asked about the barriers to finding sufficient workers. Among the 17 items, the most common factors were:

  • Potential workers choosing Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) over returning to work (61.7%)
  • The Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) ends too early (37.4%) (note that the survey wrapped prior to the proposed December extension)
  • Recruitment difficulties associated with the seasonal nature of the work (35%)
  • Wage expectations of potential employees are too high (31.1%)

These factors highlight the fine balance businesses face with trying to bring workers back while operating with no profits and uncertain futures. Not surprisingly, it also contributes to reasons why employees may not be able to return to work or may refuse to be recalled.

The Challenge of Dealing with Employees Refusing to Return to Work

There are many reasons why employees may choose not to go back to work. Among them:

  • Concerns that workplace/work context is ‘unsafe’. Tourism and hospitality jobs are often social by nature and involve a lot of ‘public-facing’ activities which often means that physical distancing is not possible.
  • The employer is unable to guarantee stable employment. Workers have expressed concerns about inadequate hours or assurances of a regular paycheck, especially if earnings amount to less than the CERB benefit. Some are worried that if they start working, they will risk not having access to access CERB or other supports in the future, if needed.
  • Workplaces have had to adapt to new circumstances, which also means there will be a change in workplace demands or skills (e.g., new protocols, different tasks being asked, requirements to wear protective equipment). Workers may be ill-prepared or uncomfortable taking on new tasks or job roles.
  • Some employees are part of a high-risk group (e.g., over 65, underlying health conditions) and cannot risk the chance of getting COVID-19. They choose to remain isolated and will avoid work that requires interaction with others.
  • Other employees may be living with someone who is high-risk and will not put these family members or friends at risk.
  • Some employees may be required to care for a family member because of conditions brought on by the pandemic, such as a lack of childcare or eldercare or a spouse who is quarantined.
  • Furloughed workers have expressed difficulty coping, which contributes to different mental health needs or other support requirements, and, subsequently, an inability to work.
  • A common anxiety raised by employees concerns transportation: being averse to using public transportation but unable to pay for alternative means. Until there are safer options, it may not be feasible for them to return to work.

Business instability contributes to employment precarity. Learning to navigate the economic variables also means there is a need to work on the social factors; in other words, growing profits also means investing in people. This is a big challenge for business operators and for the sector overall.

For guidance and tools to help work through these challenges, check out our Tourism Workforce Recovery Toolkit at



Future Skills Framework LogoTourism HR Canada has continued building the Future Skills Framework, a federally funded three-year project compiling a comprehensive bank of the competencies required in tourism.

The completed framework will help minimize skills and labour mismatches in tourism and guide job seekers, educators, and governments as they identify current and emerging skills demands in tourism workplaces.

We’re inviting tourism professionals from across the country to review the skills that have been collected and provide insights on their accuracy and relevancy. Your involvement will help ensure the framework reflects the skills and competencies tourism employers are actively seeking.

To ensure the health and safety of participants, we’ve moved these feedback sessions online. Beginning mid-August, there will be multiple options per week to participate—we’re looking for everyone from front desk agents to food and beverage servers, travel agents to tour guides, and cooks to cashiers.

If you are a tourism professional—no matter what industry or level—who would like to share your experience and be part of future-proofing the our sector, you can sign up for one of these sessions by completing this form.


As part of Tourism HR Canada’s desire to support the recovery and resiliency of the tourism workforce throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we made our entire catalogue of Emerit online training free of charge. The goal: to ensure tourism’s dedicated professionals were ready to act as soon as it was possible to begin reopening. The online courses provided safe, easy access to top quality, industry validated material to anyone interested in learning new skills or perfecting current ones.

Thousands of individuals across the country accessed a stunning 13,000 modules to help further their careers, whether to take on new responsibilities as workplaces underwent change or to explore new opportunities as tourism began to recover.

The overwhelming response included testimonials of how the offer had a tangible impact on individuals:

“Thank you for providing these free courses! Since I am on layoff due to COVID-19, I am trying to learn/improve myself as much as I can so that once things get back to normal, I am ready to get back on market. I have just finished Supervisor Essentials—I always avoided this position although I have been invited a couple of times to work as a supervisor. But now I feel more confident to do so! I also completed the Heritage Interpreter course, which was perfect for me as an Activity Coordinator for Via Rail. I develop lots of interpretations and activities for the passengers. So both courses helped a LOT!!!! Thank you Emerit for giving me the chance to invest in myself (from home)!” – Débora Alkimin

“I would like to say thank you for offering your courses for free during these tough times. I am already using the skills I learned in the course at my new management position. ” – Natoma Houston

“Thanks for the opportunity you gave us, Centennial College alumni, to keep on track to our future in the Canadian hospitality industry.” – Alexandre Alencar

Tourism HR Canada would like to thank each and every learner for their commitment to building a stronger tourism sector. We also extend our gratitude to our Emerit partners for their collaboration and support:

  • Yukon Tourism Education Council (YTEC)
  • go2HR
  • Alberta Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA)
  • Saskatchewan Tourism Education Council (STEC)
  • Manitoba Tourism Education Council (MTEC)
  • Ontario Tourism Education Corporation (OTEC)
  • Conseil québécois des ressources humaines en tourisme (CQRHT)
  • Tourism Industry Association of New Brunswick (TIANB)
  • Nova Scotia Tourism Human Resource Council (NSTHRC)
  • Tourism Industry Association of Prince Edward Island (TIAPEI)
  • Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador (HNL)

As the country shifts further into recovery and reopening, we are focusing our efforts on resources that will continue to build the sector’s resiliency.

Our free Tourism Workforce Recovery Toolkit is now live, offering tools and checklists to help tourism businesses safely reopen and welcome back visitors and staff.

Additionally, our new Hospitality Essentials microlearning, developed in partnership with the Hotel Association of Canada, is available for free as part of the Destination Employment pilot program.

Emerit courses will remain free of charge until July 31 (and anyone who has added the courses to their Emerit profile will have continued free access until December 31).

OTEC’s Joe Baker compares hotel owners and managers to sports coaches. “Our athletes have been in an off-season world for the last three months.  Before we can get them on the field performing at their peak during games, they will need to go through training camp and skills drills.”

By Joe Baker
First published by Canadian Lodging News

As hospitality and tourism businesses start to re-open across the country, we are seeing a slow return to the next normal.  Many of our industry associations and organizations have been rallying to remind our governments how essential the tourism sector is to Canada.  Of course, as operators and educators embedded in the field, we didn’t need a crisis to understand how valuable we are to local, provincial, territorial and national economies and communities.

We know this pandemic has been devastating to our businesses.  It is testing our resilience and innovation to get back on our feet.  In this critical moment during the very early phases of re-opening, I would like to reflect on the impact this pandemic has had on our workers and make a few suggestions as to how we can re-engage them and create some win/win scenarios.  Just how many Canadian tourism workers have been affected by the pandemic?  Tourism HR Canada reports that at its peak, the pandemic saw nearly 900,000 workers sidelined.  Recent reopening has restored more than 80,000 jobs so we are heading in the right direction, but the impact on the people of tourism has been profound and will be lasting.

So, what can we do to get them re-engaged in adding value to our businesses as we fight our way back?   Let’s imagine what we would do if we were team owners or coaches.  Our athletes have been in an off-season world for the last three months.  Before we can get them on the field performing at their peak during games, they will need to go through training camp and skills drills.  Especially because we will be asking them to execute our value propositions in a whole new world where health and safety have become front and centre.

As you welcome your valued associates and team members back to the workplace, try to keep in mind that they may need more time training and practising. And that the skills required to serve your guests, clients and business processes themselves have shifted, changed and evolved.  As business owners, leaders or even senior managers, you are well aware of the environment we are now operating in – but they may not be.  Do not underestimate just how challenging this time has been on them mentally.  Encourage and support them. Connect them to the issues and resources.  The good news is that many industry organizations and associations are working together to create resources for businesses and workers as we re-connect everyone to the new tourism industry.  Keep your eyes open and your participation focused on surveys coming out to inform these recovery tools.

This has always been a people-first industry.  Nothing brings people together quite like a catastrophe.  And now is our time to pull together an emerge even more resilient.  Reminding our workforce why tourism is a rewarding place to launch, grow and develop careers and livelihoods.  Please keep the collaboration going.  Because we can overcome anything. Together.

Key recovery tools are available from:

Joe Baker has recently joined OTEC as a Systems Leadership and Integrated Strategy Advisor.  He will be focusing on supporting tourism industry recovery efforts in collaboration with the many organizations involved in several active projects and initiatives.  He is an experienced speaker, facilitator and writer.  Contact him at:

For the second month in a row, tourism employment increased in June, rising in all five of the industry groups that make up the tourism sector.


  • Tourism employment increased by 243,900 jobs between May and June
  • The tourism unemployment rate remains high at 25.0%
  • There were 668,300 fewer individuals employed in tourism in June 2020 than in June 2019
  • Employment for 15- to 24-year-olds remained 9.5% lower than it was in February—this remained the greatest decrease in employment by age group, alongside those over 65 (also down 9.5% since February)
  • The over-65 age group saw smaller percentage decreases in employment in March and April, but have also seen a much more tepid employment recovery in May and June

Please note: To allow comparisons with tourism sector data, which sees significant employment fluctuations over the year, we use seasonally unadjusted data for both tourism employment and overall employment.

Tourism Employment Rate

In the tourism sector, the seasonally unadjusted labour force survey data shows that the number of employed individuals grew by 243,900 from May to June—an increase of 19.7%. Combined with the increase in May, tourism employment has risen by 327,800 jobs since its April nadir.

Despite the increase, the number of individuals employed in tourism was 27.2% lower than in February 2020, and 31.1% lower than in June 2019. There were 668,300 fewer people employed in tourism this June than there were one year prior.

In June, overall employment (unadjusted for seasonality), increased by over 1 million jobs. The increase in tourism employment accounted for 21.3% of that overall increase. In May, tourism had only accounted for 13.5% of the total employment increase.

Employment increased among all industry groups, ranging from 1,800 jobs added in travel services to almost 150,000 jobs in food and beverage services.

Of the added employment, 56.6% were full-time jobs. In the accommodations industry, employment increases were almost exclusively driven by the addition of full-time jobs. In food and beverage services, roughly half of the jobs added were full-time.

Part-time jobs in the travel services industry was the only employment category in which employment decreased this June.

Because the industry groups that make up tourism are different sizes, looking at the monthly change in employment as a percentage change relative to the previous month provides a more equitable picture of how each industry has been affected. It also helps illustrate the size of the employment increases, relative to the employment decreases that occurred in past months.

Employment in all industry groups remains well below its pre-COVID level. The travel services industry group has the largest overall employment loss as a percent of the number of individuals employed in February, down by almost half. Despite an increase in employment of 27.3% between May and June, the food and beverage services industry has the second largest percentage employment loss since February (-30.2%).

As we enter the summer, usually a peak time in tourism demand and employment, the comparison to February’s employment levels becomes less important than year-over-year comparisons of employment. March is usually a low point for tourism employment during the year, with jobs steadily added until an August peak, after which employment drops again as the summer tourism season ends. In 2019, the tourism sector added over 230,000 jobs between March and July.

On a year-over-year basis, seasonally unadjusted employment across all Canadian industries was down 8.3% from June 2019. In comparison, tourism employment was down 31.1%. Year-over-year employment generally improved between May and June. Still, by industry group, year-over-year employment losses in June ranged from -30.8% in recreation and entertainment to -43.6% in travel services.

In June, tourism employment increased in all provinces. Employment increases ranged from an additional 2,300 jobs added in Prince Edward Island (an increase of 67.6% from May) to an additional 69,000 jobs in Ontario (an increase of 15.1% from the month prior).

Despite the increase in employment, these provincial increases in employment follow two months of massive employment losses, and employment levels remain well below those of 2019. New Brunswick’s tourism sector is the closest to normal employment levels being “only” -13.8% below the level of employment for June 2019. Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Prince Edward Island are the farthest from last year’s June employment level at -41.2%, -37.2%, and -36.7%, respectively.

Tourism Unemployment Rate

Both the overall and tourism unemployment rates decreased in June. Tourism unemployment fell to 25.0%. By industry, the unemployment rate was highest in accommodations, at 30.3%.

The tourism sector unemployment rate was 20.2 percentage points higher than the rate reported in June 2019, but lower than the previous month (May 2020), when the unemployment rate stood at 29.7%. At 25.0%, tourism’s unemployment rate is well above Canada’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate of 11.9%.

The unemployment rate dropped (albeit slightly) in four of the five industry groups that make up the tourism sector. In the transportation industry, despite an increase in employment, the unemployment rate rose due to more people starting to look for work.

Unemployment Rate
Tourism Industry Group[1]

June 2019

May 2020

June 2020

Tourism 4.8% 29.7% 25.0%
Accommodations 5.9% 34.1% 30.3%
Food & Beverage Services 5.2% 35.0% 25.8%
Recreation & Entertainment 6.5% 29.2% 27.8%
Transportation 1.4% 13.2% 14.3%
Travel Services N/A 29.6% 28.1%

On a provincial basis, tourism unemployment rates ranged from 17.0% in Manitoba to 32.1% in Prince Edward Island.

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates for tourism in each province were above the rates reported for the provincial economy.

The number of unemployed tourism workers dropped slightly in June from a peak of 521,800 in May to 493,300 in June. This decrease of 28,500 is only about 10% of the increase in employment, which suggests that many of those hired in June were not looking for work—and therefore not considered unemployed—in May.

In March and April, there was a large gap between the cumulative number of jobs lost since February and the number of unemployed individuals. During those months, the unemployment rate presented an inaccurate picture of tourism labour trends as it only counts people who are actively looking for work. Now that the number of jobs lost since February and the number of unemployed individuals is somewhat closer (a gap of 60,600 remains), the unemployment rate is a more accurate metric of the share of tourism employees who are seeking work but unable to find a job.

As we move forward, it will become important to track the total number of individuals in the tourism labour force (the number of individuals employed and unemployed). If this number drops it is an indicator that individuals are either dropping out of the labour force entirely (not seeking work), or leaving the tourism sector and finding work in other industries.

Total Actual Hours Worked by Sector

The number of actual hours worked in tourism-related sectors increased significantly in June. From May to June, the number of actual hours worked increased by 54.6% in the accommodation and food services sector and by 23.4% in the information, culture and recreation sector. In February, accommodation and food services employees worked over 31 million hours. In April, they worked just over 10.9 million hours, while in June, actual hours worked increased to 20.2 million hours.

Workers in the information, culture and recreation sector worked 22.3 million hours in February. By April, actual hours of work had dropped to 13.6 million, but rebounded to 18.7 million in June.

The reduction in hours worked in these two sectors continues to be greater than the reduction in employment. This suggests that there are still individuals employed but not working to full capacity. However, the gap is narrowing. The number of hours worked rose more quickly in both sectors than employment did from May to June.


Employment by Age Group and Gender

In June, employment continued to rebound for all age groups, with a particularly strong rebound for those 15 to 24 years of age. Employment increased by 398,700 jobs for this age group (a 22.5% increase from May). Despite two months of increases however, employment for 15- to 24-year-olds remained 9.5% lower than it was in February. This remained the greatest decrease in employment by age group, alongside those over 65 (also down 9.5% since February). The over-65 age group saw smaller percentage decreases in employment in March and April, but have also seen a much more tepid employment recovery in May and June.

Employment levels for male and female workers increased by roughly the same percentage in June. For females who were under the age of 25, however, the rebound in employment was much stronger than it was for males of the same age.

Moving Forward

Employment has increased significantly since April, and will continue to rise in July as restrictions on businesses continue to be lifted. However, employment will still fall short of pre-COVID levels and well short of the usual employment peaks that are seen over the summer. Importantly, with international travel into Canada remaining at a standstill, the tourism sector is entirely reliant on a mix of demand from local residents and Canadians travelling domestically this summer. With many restrictions lifting but others (such as physical distancing) still in place for the foreseeable future, the question is how much of the usual summer demand will businesses receive from locals and domestic tourists. Many businesses are reliant on the summer season to make the year profitable.

Some signs are hopeful: a recent survey by Leger, a Canadian market research company, found that 64% of Canadians plan to take more staycations in the coming year[2].

Of concern is what happens this fall. Tourism employment will continue to rebound over the summer, but it has always dropped slightly come September. Whether it does so this year will depend on whether domestic demand continues to sustain businesses over the summer and whether by fall tourism businesses have received enough revenue that they are comfortable sustaining operations until next year.

Anecdotally, businesses such as golf courses, cottages, and campgrounds have been able to capitalize on being seen as a safe activity, receiving a significant boost in demand. Restaurants have been able to take advantage of bylaw amendments allowing them to expand their patios, making up for the loss of indoor seating capacity.

But not all businesses have been able to do so. Restaurants are not always located in an area where a patio can be set up. The cancellation of large festivals, events, and conferences has had a knock-on effect on a wide range of tourism businesses. Businesses in regions that were heavily dependent on international and long-distance domestic tourism cannot rely on local demand to fully replace lost tourists.

A survey of business conditions by Statistics Canada found that in May, 34.7% of businesses in the accommodation and food services sector, 34.7% in the information and cultural industries sector, and over one-quarter of businesses in the arts, entertainment and recreation sector (26.8%) reported they could continue to operate at their current level of revenue and expenditures for less than six months before considering further staffing actions, closure, or bankruptcy.

Since then, business conditions have improved. September will tell if they have improved enough.

[1] As defined by the Canadian Tourism Satellite Account. The NAICS industries included in the tourism sector are those that would cease to exist or operate at a significantly reduced level of activity as a direct result of an absence of tourism.


Launched last month, the Tourism Workforce Recovery Toolkit offers a wide range of advice, resources, and guidance to help tourism operators safely navigate the gradual reopening of communities and businesses.

As the situation across Canada is constantly changing in response to fluctuations in cases, regional needs, and new research, the Toolkit was designed to be regularly updated to reflect this reality and be as current as possible.

Today, a series of printable checklists were added to the Toolkit, providing tourism business owners with quick and clear reference documents to help them with a wide variety of changes to the workforce and business operations.

As part of the launch, we’re highlighting one of these checklists here. For the full range of materials, visit

Rethinking Work, Workforce, and Workplace Checklist

Responding to COVID-19 Impacts & the New Normal

Workforce planning is the cornerstone of a viable tourism business. Tourism relies on its people to deliver the experience; without them, tourism lacks heart and meaning. COVID-19 has had profound impacts on the workforce. Subsequently, employers need to completely overhaul their human resource practices and policies. Regardless of the size of business, these workforce plans need to factor in the types of new skills and the ever-changing work environments that are being implemented because of COVID-19.

Tourism employers can expect a gradual and slow recovery period. This will impact businesses in ways that are unfamiliar, such as changing business models, adapting or developing new products and services, or learning to work with fewer workers and rely more on technology to augment or enhance the services provided. Perhaps the most profound impact of COVID-19 on tourism businesses has to do with the impact on workers. More than ever, the pandemic underscores the need for a resilient workforce that is quick to adapt. Tourism, after all, is dependent on the human dimension—it’s the skilled workforce that delivers on the service promise.

This checklist is intended to help employers rethink, redesign, and optimize their workforce to respond to the future of work.


  • How many employees, and which ones?
    • What will be the composition and size of the workforce you need based on the changes you’re planning to make to your business? How many will be full-time, part-time or casual workers?
    • Think about your needs in the short term (perhaps 2 – 4 months) and the longer term (such as 5 – 12 months)
    • Is there a possibility of maintaining or increasing the number of employees working remotely?
    • Will there be layoffs?
  • What skills are needed?
    • Do your employees have the skills that are needed?
    • What are the gaps?
    • Look for ways to provide employees with varied, adaptive, and flexible roles so they acquire transferable and cross-functional knowledge and skills
  • Which employees should come back to work and when?
    • Which employees are ready to return? Which ones are not?
    • Do any of the employees require additional supports or accommodations (e.g., special scheduling requirements because of caregiving requirements, a worker that is part of the high-risk group)
  • Are new investments needed to enable workers to be productive? For example:
    • Reconfiguring the workplace to comply with physical distancing and health and safety measures
    • Reskilling or training to prepare workers for new demands, such as cleaning protocols, new or altered tasks, managing staff working remotely, cyber risks, and data protection
    • Retooling or enhancing technology platforms or access to collaboration tools (both at home and in the workplace, to enable people to switch easily between the two)
    • New technology to augment or enhance employee work
  • What are the required changes to HR policies? For example:
    • Procedures for reporting illness
    • Extended absences (e.g., employees in quarantine or self-isolation, paid time off and leave)
    • Workplace accommodation policies
    • Staff travel guidelines
    • Working remotely
    • Privacy law in the context of pandemics and employee and employer rights


  • Prioritizing and emphasizing health, safety, and employee wellbeing, for example:
    • Help ensure employees are confident about their own safety
    • Look for ways to help employees address financial concerns or seek financial assistance, where needed
    • Offer support for workers struggling with mental health
  • Compliance with new protocols (e.g., processes to follow when an employee tests positive for COVID-19 and the implications on guests, other staff, and products)
  • New/expanded health and safety training
  • Telework/telecommuting practices
  • Guidance for high-risk and essential workers
  • Leveraging government programs
  • Clear policies, including:
    • How to address absence due to sickness or caring for relatives
    • Protocols for guests
    • Procedures for reporting illness
  • Impacts of terminating employees
  • Impacts on insurance policies and premiums and other long-standing arrangements employers have with their employees.

Click here to download a printable version of this checklist.

Click here for more workforce management resources on

COVID-19 has impacted all aspects of Canadians’ lives and affected employment across industries and occupations. Almost no segment of the economy has been untouched, but certain groups have been more affected than others.

We know that women and youth have suffered greater employment losses as a percentage of pre-COVID employment levels than men. A recent survey by Statistics Canada showed that while most visible minority groups reported similar rates of job loss or reduced work hours compared to white respondents, the COVID-19 pandemic generally had a stronger impact on visible minority participants’ ability to meet financial obligations or essential needs.[1]

In examining the effect of COVID-19 on employment by average annual earnings, it’s clear that the negative employment effects of COVID-19 have been greatest on those working in jobs with lower average income levels.

Effects Vary Across Earnings Categories

For this analysis, we looked at the change in employment across the economy by two-digit National Occupational Classification (NOC) code, grouping those NOC codes by their average annual earnings. Data on employment comes from the Labour Force Survey. The labour force survey data used here is seasonally unadjusted. Data on the average earning for each NOC code comes from 2016 census data. The NOCs are grouped into four earnings categories:

  1. Less than $30,000 per year
  2. $30,000 and $50,0000 per year
  3. $50,000 to $80,000 per year
  4. Over $80,000 per year

The labour force survey data tracks employment from beginning of the COVID-19 lockdowns through to May, when the strictest aspects of the lockdown started to lift. The data described here can be viewed in the following chart, which allows monthly selections and shows employment decreases (relative to February 2020) for each earnings category and two-digit NOC code.

Figure 1: Occupation Employment Change Compared to February

Employment dropped for three of the four earnings groups in March as shutdowns caused by COVID-19 began to affect Canada. Employment only grew for the highest earnings category, as occupations that earned over $80,000 added 32,800 jobs from February to March.

The initial employment hit in March decreased the number of individuals employed in occupations earning less than $30,000 by over half a million. Employment in occupations earning $30,000 to $50,000 saw the second greatest decrease in March, with 415,000 fewer individuals employed in March than in February.

By April, COVID-19’s negative effect on employment was felt regardless of earnings category. In that month, employment in Canada had decreased by 3 million jobs compared to February. Total employment decreased the most in the second lowest earnings category, dropping by over 1.2 million jobs, while employment in the lowest earnings category fell by just under a million compared to February levels (see Table 1).

Table 1: Employed Individuals by Month and Earnings Category

Under $30K $30K to $50K $50K to $80K Above $80K
February 3,383,700 6,651,900 5,723,300 3,158,300
March 2,867,200 6,236,500 5,562,600 3,190,600
April 2,391,700 5,446,000 5,082,000 3,092,000
May 2,502,500 5,635,300 5,316,000 3,178,100

Detailing Hardest-Hit Occupations

The NOC code with the greatest drop in employment was “service support and other service occupations”. Those employed in this occupational group earn on average less than $30,000 per year. They include food counter attendants, light duty cleaners (such as housekeepers), as well as operators and attendants in amusement, sport, and recreation (which covers most frontline jobs in the recreation and entertainment industry, such as lifeguard and ski lift attendant).

The second greatest employment drop occurred in jobs that fall under the NOC code “service representatives and other customer and personal services occupations”, the occupational category which includes many frontline tourism jobs such as hotel front desk clerks, travel counsellors, and food and beverage servers. On average, this occupational group also earns less than $30,000 per year.

These two occupational groups share certain characteristics. The 2016 census shows that these jobs tend to be filled by young people: 29.7% and 26.5% of workers in the two groups are aged 15 to 25, respectively. These occupational groups also have a relatively high share of part-time workers: 41.2% and 35.5%, respectively.

The occupational group that saw the third largest employment decline by April was “sales representatives and sales persons in wholesale and retail trade”. This group falls into the second lowest earnings category and saw an employment decline of 274,200 jobs. The jobs within this occupational group include most frontline retails sales workers. It also has a high share of young and part-time workers.

Fuller Picture of Employment Decreases

These analyses of employment drops have been in terms of the total number of jobs lost. By this metric, the earnings category of $30,000 to $50,000 has been hardest hit, as the greatest total job losses occurred in occupations with average earnings in this range.

However, the size of each group was not the same at the start of February. There was double the number of individuals employed in jobs earning between $30,000 and $50,000 than individuals in jobs earning less than $30,000 (see Table 1).

Using February as a starting point, we can look at the percentage decrease in employment for each earnings category. In these terms, the lowest earnings category suffered the most acute job losses. By April, almost 30% of jobs in the lowest earnings category had disappeared, compared to an 18.1% employment loss in occupations that earned $30,000 to $50,000 (see Table 2).

Table 2: Percentage Decrease in Employment Compared to February by Earnings Category

 Under $30K $30K to $50K $50K to $80K Above $80K
February 3,383,700 6,651,900 5,723,300 3,158,300
March -15.3% -6.2% -2.8% 1.0%
April -29.3% -18.1% -11.2% -2.1%
May -26.0% -15.3% -7.1% 0.6%

So far, April has been the nadir for employment. Increases in employment were observed across all earnings categories in May. The number of individuals employed in occupations with average earnings greater than $80,000 even crept above February levels after adding 86,100 employed individuals. The greatest employment increase occurred amongst occupations earning $50,000 to $80,000 per year. Employment rose by 234,000 in these occupations. The second lowest earning category added the second highest number of employed individuals (189,300), followed by the lowest earnings category (110,800 jobs added) (see Table 1).

Impact Extends Beyond Young, Part-Time Workers

While May’s employment increase is good news, employment levels remain well below February’s levels and the lowest earnings categories remain the most affected. In terms of total jobs losses, there were 881,000 fewer jobs in the lowest earnings category in May and over a million fewer jobs in the second lowest earnings category. Despite the increase seen in May, employment in those two earning categories remains 26.0% and 15.3% lower than they had been before the lockdowns caused by COVID-19 (see Table 2).

This presents a significant challenge for Canadian society. Because some of these jobs are in fact filled by youth working part-time and include occupations associated with part-time summer employment, there is a risk of dismissing these losses as largely affecting teenagers and students who can fall back on family supports.

To do so would ignore these key facts:

  • More than 70% of those working in the occupations that make up the lowest earning category are 25 years of age or older
  • Over half are over the age of 35, with 34% aged 35 to 54, which is considered prime working age
  • 57% of jobs in this earnings category are full-time jobs

Further, even if the large majority of workers in the lowest earning category were youth working summer jobs, it would be unwarranted to assume those young people are from middle- or upper-class families who have the resources to support them through additional years without employment.

Even for that small share of young people who can fall back on family resources, there are negative consequences. You hop on the career ladder when you start your first job. Even if initial earnings are not high, it represents the starting point for your wage trajectory and your ability to save across the rest of your life. Delaying the starting point, or interrupting that trajectory, has ramifications along your entire career path.

Tourism HR Canada will continue to track employment levels by earnings category for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis. The chart in this article will be added to our Tourism Employment Tracker following the release of the June Labour Force Survey.

[1] Economic impact of COVID-19 among visible minority groups, Statistics Canada,