Canada’s nursing shortage unlikely to get better, report finds

Job vacancies for Canadian nurses have risen substantially in recent years, but employment growth has tapered off, resulting in a labour shortage that “shows no signs of easing” as the country gets older, a new report finds.

The number of nurses per 10,000 Canadian adults has stagnated at roughly 113 since 2016, after a period of robust growth, according a report by hiring site Indeed Canada. It found the slowdown has taken place in most provinces and coincides with tepid wage growth for nursing positions relative to the broader labour market.

“It seems that nursing has been bypassed by the jobs pickup in the rest of the economy,” said Brendon Bernard, economist at Indeed Canada, in the report.

That’s not for lack of demand. Nursing job vacancies have risen 77 per cent since the second quarter of 2015, outpacing the overall rate of openings, Statistics Canada data show.×

quarterProfessional occupations in nursingAll occupations
2015-06-30100100
2015-09-3081.7733990190.25059468
2015-12-3195.7072484279.3837473
2016-03-31113.581984573.06854013
2016-06-30111.330049386.56082315
2016-09-30102.814919189.58566134
2016-12-31102.603800184.30823699
2017-03-31103.940886785.65138021
2017-06-30113.2301196101.7170991
2017-09-30111.6819141103.4231344
2017-12-31113.1597467103.857941
2018-03-31128.2899367102.1950545
2018-06-30153.5538353120.9979532
2018-09-30151.8648839121.8498645
2018-12-31142.294159121.1108038
2019-03-31149.1203378111.9964596
2019-06-30177.3399015128.6928141

But those positions are staying vacant longer, the Indeed report points out. At the outset of 2016, 21 per cent of nursing vacancies over the past year had been open for at least 90 days. By the second quarter of 2019, that had risen to 26 per cent.

Moreover, Indeed found there is waning interest in nursing job postings on its site. In 2016 and 2017, nursing jobs received about half the clicks of a typical posting; by mid-2019, it had dropped to 35 per cent.

“The combination of expanding opportunities and lagging interest makes for a growing challenge to fill these positions,” Mr. Bernard wrote. “Job seeker interest in nursing is particularly low relative to demand in smaller provinces and for certain specialized roles, most notably in urgent care.”

(As part of its analysis, Indeed used Statistics Canada data on professional occupations in nursing, which include registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses, along with nursing co-ordinators and supervisors.)

Despite labour shortages, wages have not responded in a powerful way. In 2011, average hourly earnings for nursing occupations were 48 per cent higher than for the typical Canadian job. But the nursing wage premium has since ebbed to 36 per cent, or roughly where it stood in 2000, according to the report.

Mr. Bernard noted that most of those in nursing occupations are in unions or covered by collective bargaining agreements, and that “public funding levels appear to be a more important factor determining wages than competition for workers.” He added that “nursing’s pay premium could remain under pressure due to fiscal constraints” at the provincial level.

Health-care spending is widely projected to increase substantially in the coming years as more Canadians head into retirement, putting a strain on provincial finances. Given the demographic shift, considerably more nurses are needed. Employment and Social Development Canada projects there will be nearly 160,000 openings for registered nurses between 2017 and 2026, and that this occupation’s employment will grow the most of any other in total numbers.

“So far, this forecast has missed the mark,” Mr. Bernard said.

MATT LUNDY ECONOMICS REPORTER

PUBLISHED November 28,2019

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