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Job Vacancy Trends for Healthcare and Retail Trade Industries in Canada for 2021

International students study in Canada hoping to qualify for the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP) after graduation as a pathway to permanent residency. While this is undoubtedly an option open to all international students, specific fields tend to give students a higher chance of getting a job. 

As you can probably imagine, skills shortages would motivate countries to encourage qualified graduates to stay. The significant rise in unfilled vacancies in healthcare, social assistance services, and retail has been a concerning issue in Canada. 

Key Takeaways

  • Canada is experiencing high job vacancy rates for 2021
  • The sectors with the highest job vacancy numbers and rates are retail, healthcare, and social assistance
  • International students can fill the gaps by taking short courses for industries with labor shortages and working more than 20 hours a week

Job vacancy numbers

A recent report from Statistics Canada shows an overall drop in payroll employment by 1.6 percent (equivalent to 257,500 in May 2021) from the previous month. Given that the labor market is still in flux, a month-to-month comparison may be misleading. Looking at job vacancy rates for specific industries over several months might be more accurate, from January 2021 to August 2021. I will focus on healthcare and social assistance, and retail which show the highest numbers for that period. I also added job vacancies for educational services with a relatively low vacancy rate for comparison.

Source: Statistics Canada

The line chart above shows actual job vacancies for three industries, which establishes a trend within each sector but does not necessarily reflect the rates for easy comparison among industries. 

Job vacancy rates

The chart below looks at the job vacancy rate, the number of job vacancies as a percentage of demand, or all occupied and vacant jobs.

Source: Statistics Canada

As you can see, the two charts are remarkably similar in trends, which means that the numbers represent the rates of each industry. When looking at rates, we can also compare each industry apples-to-apples, and the demand for retail workers is rising as more establishments open. Strangely enough, more educational institutions are also opening, but there is no sharp rise in job vacancy rates. 

Implications for international students

Given the circumstances, it is perhaps understandable that the healthcare and social assistance industries would experience high demand. While it is understandable, there still needs to be a solution. 

One solution is for higher education institutions to open short programs for health care and social assistance for both domestic and international students so they can jump into the gaps as soon as possible. Since international students are more likely to be open to short programs, it would benefit HEIs and specific sectors in Canada to target them for recruitment.

A similar argument may apply for solving the job vacancies in retail as international students are also more likely to work part-time as they pursue their studies. The temporary lifting of the 20-hour per week maximum for international students in Canada up to August 2020 addressed this very problem. However, that accommodation is no longer in place even though the labor shortage is still a problem in that sector.


Overall, job vacancy rates in Canada will probably continue to rise for some months ahead, but especially for the healthcare and social assistance and retail trade industries. The solution is to encourage international students to apply for short courses in these industries and work extended hours. (SUNEETHA QURESHI)

MSM VP Global Suneetha Qureshi

MSM President-Global Marketing Office (GMO)

Suneetha has more than 10 years of experience in the international education sector. As president of MSM GMO, she fortifies its business development outreach globally, particularly in the face of MSM’s foray in edtech-based recruitment via MSM Unify. She preserves the premium, value-adding services provided to each GMO partner institution, including dedicated teams on the ground, agent management, lead generation and inquiry management, application pre-screening, and student and parent support through pioneering pre-departure briefing sessions.


She has an impeccable track record of successfully launching the representative offices in Asia and Africa of many North American and European higher education institutions. Her key strengths include hiring, training, and developing teams as evidenced by the successful results of the dedicated in-country college and university client teams.

Suneetha also has taken the lead in developing several initiatives at MSM, including building robust standard operating procedures, the Rise ‘n Shine team engagement platform, and the organization’s data analytics and audit segments.


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