Barrie has the highest unemployment rate in Ontario. Why?

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Why does Barrie have the highest unemployment rate in Canada?
Barrie has the highest unemployment rate in Ontario. Farah Nasser speaks with residents about their frustrations and how they hope to gain employment – May 30, 2018

Barrie’s unemployment rate dropped marginally from March to April, however, the city still has the highest rate in the province.

According to new numbers released by Statistics Canada on May 11, Barrie recorded a jobless rate of 8.4 per cent for April.

In March, the city’s unemployment rate was 8.8 per cent. A number high enough to claim the undesirable top spot in Canada. Now, Barrie sits just behind St. John’s, N.L., in the second spot.

However, it wasn’t always this way. In fact, Barrie’s unemployment rate only spiked in the last few months. In December, Statistics Canada reported Barrie had the lowest unemployment rate in the country, at just 3.4 per cent.

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Barrie’s Mayor Jeff Lehman, says he found the number released in March to be “puzzling,” as the city considers the hiring climate in Barrie to be “incredibly strong.”

“I understand how much attention is paid to the monthly unemployment numbers, and city by city and so forth, but we can’t find a single other piece of proof that corroborates the stats about the increase to our unemployment rate,” Lehman said.

As for what is responsible for the dramatic increase in the unemployment rate, Barrie Chamber of Commerce executive director Richard Brooks believes the implementation of Bill 148, which raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour, may have disproportionately affected the area.

The executive director of the Barrie Chamber of Commerce says the minimum-wage hike may have had an impact. Hannah Jackson / Global News

However, Mayor Lehman isn’t sure that the minimum-wage hike had that large of an impact. “If we were a city that had a high proportion of part-time jobs or minimum-wage jobs, then you might think that would have an impact but that didn’t prove out in the data,” Lehman said.

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He also noted the city’s unemployment rate increased in March, not January, when the legislation was first implemented.

However, both Brooks and Lehman suggest a skills gap may be contributing to the high number.

Brooks says that not enough people are going into the skilled trades, while other sectors like administration are oversaturated with applicants.

“Retraining people into those sectors might be a good idea, but probably also making them more aware that there are good opportunities in those sectors too,” he says.

Lehman says in order to remedy this, the city has held several job fairs, and have partnered with Georgian College to bring more programs to the school which would train individuals for the open roles.

Several Barrie residents say they have been feeling the effects of the skills gap, and have been finding it nearly impossible to find jobs in the oversaturated markets.

Barrie resident, Lee Ann Catling, says she has been looking for a job in the administrative field for nearly two years. She says along with handing out hundreds of resumes, she has also networked extensively, and has had no success.

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“I’ve applied for everything, and I have had no luck. I’ve even had my resume rewritten by 19 people,” she said.

Catling says she has nearly 40 years of experience in her field, and even went back to school for business administration to aid in the job search, to no avail.

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Another Barrie resident, Niesha Downey, says she moved from Vancouver to Barrie to be closer to family and like Catling, has been looking for a job in the administrative field for nearly two years.

Downey says she has nearly 10 years of experience corroborated by very positive reference letters from former employers, and has still had no luck finding a job in her field. She is currently working a food-service job, which she says allows her to make ends meet, but isn’t something that she enjoys or wants to be doing long-term.

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According to Downey, she has looked all across Simcoe County for a job, and is worried she will have to look even further to find a position.

In terms of aid, several staffing agencies across the city such as ESS Direct, operate to help connect employers with qualified candidates.

Suite Success at ESS Direct in Barrie’s south end works to connect candidates with companies looking to hire. Hannah Jackson / Global News

Darryl Simpson, operations manager at ESS Direct, says that while he too considers the hiring market in Barrie to be “extremely strong,” and maintains that there are, “tons of great opportunities in Simcoe County,” he understands how difficult the job search process can be.

“It’s lonely, it’s painful, it feels shameful so we tend to hide from things, which counteracts the most important aspect which is networking. They say being unemployed is up there with death and divorce.”

Simpson says it takes time. He says specialists looking for work in Simcoe County can expect to be waiting at least six months to a year to find work.

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“It’s nothing personal, its nothing to do with you, it’s just what are the odds statistically that an employer in the industry you’re from has the role that you’re looking for, is looking at the same moment you’re looking.”

Simpson says when it comes to finding a job, it’s all about networking. “It’s absolutely network, network, network. Eighty per cent of people get jobs through who they know. Everybody gets shy when they’re looking for work because unemployment in this society is seen as a shameful thing.”

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He says people should approach job searching like a sales pitch. “People should remember they are selling their services for money, and should let employers know what they have done in the past to prepare them for this new role.”

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So while the lengthy search continues for many people looking for jobs in Barrie, Mayor Lehman says he isn’t overly concerned about April’s report.

“In December, Barrie had the lowest unemployment rate in the country, and in March, it was the highest, and the April number has decreased a little bit. I guess my point is to say that even StatCan says don’t pay too much attention to the monthly numbers, at the city level, don’t get too excited if they are really low, and don’t get too excited if they are really high because they’re extremely volatile,” he said.

Lehman says what is more important is to look at the yearly numbers to monitor whether the employment rate is decreasing, and to ensure good jobs are being created in the long term.

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