Unemployment probably higher than stats show, says local Workforce board

Unemployment numbers are on the rise across Canada, but the head of the Workforce Planning Board of Waterloo Wellington Dufferin (WPBWWD) said the region is “doing okay” by comparison. 

Statistics Canada released data Friday that pegs Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo’s unemployment rate for the month of April at 7.8 per cent, compared to 6 per cent the previous month. 

In Guelph, the unemployment rate rose from 5.3 per cent in March to 8.6 per cent in April. 

Because the unemployment rate is a three month average, WPBWWD Executive Director Charlene Hofbauer said the real unemployment numbers for the month of April are higher. She expects it to be about 11 or 12 per cent in Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo and closer to 14 or 15 per cent in Guelph. 

Hofbauer estimates the number of people working in the Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo region dropped from 300,600 in March to 290,200 in April, and in Guelph from 88,500 in March to 85,800 in April. 

“Anyone looking at these numbers would see a real doom and gloom situation,” said Hofbauer. “But at the same time, in comparison to some other Ontario communities, we’re in the middle of the pack. We’re doing okay.” 

Why is Guelph’s unemployment rate higher? 

Guelph’s unemployment rate was one of the lowest in the province a year ago, said Hofbauer. She believes it’s seeing a higher unemployment rate because its industries are hard hit by COVID-19. 

“Guelph is well known for its arts and culture, for its tourism sector. They have quite a bit of tourism in their area as well, and some of these groups are having a little bit harder time with staff. Although their numbers were pretty good from Feb to March, there’s been a loss of jobs potentially where people thought they could make it through, and now they’re realizing they have to scale back a bit.” 

Even if a layoff is considered temporary, it still contributes to the region’s unemployment number, Hofbauer explained. She also pointed out that Guelph’s manufacturing sector isn’t as diverse as it is in Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo. 

“Kitchener-Waterloo has the tech sector and finance. Those are fairly big industries, and they can work from home so you can minimize layoffs in that scenario.”

Who’s hiring? 

While some industries struggle to maintain employees, others are searching for more. The healthcare industry, noted Hofbauer, is an example. 

“Many of them are putting into place staff contingency plans, in case they lose chunks of their staff,” she explained. “They’re hiring everything from personal support workers and nurses right on through to cooks and cleaners. There are some hospitals that are just hiring people to process people that come into the hospital.” 

The finance industry, businesses that rely on tech, delivery and transportation services and some stores are also hiring, said Hofbauer.

“There’s a few industries that have become essential and a lot of those essential industries need some people to back up some of that contingency staff absence plan.”

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