By Andreea Hanko
The challenge for many countries affected by COVID-19 is how to face and overcome the situation. The challenge for those in search of jobs through this pandemic is even more pronounced. Coronavirus came and disrupted all of our lives. Life may never be the same again. As someone who relies on the financial services industry’s entrepreneurial models as I go about helping families become debt free and financially independent, I know from experience how hard it can be to find stable income and I am certainly not alone as I scan the post COVID-19 market for the next opportunity.
Canada’s Labour Market is Hurting Like it was in 1982
Businesses have shutdown. Statistics Canada estimates that over 3 million people have been laid off since the pandemic began, raising the unemployment rate from 7.8% to 14% in April. Consumption was halted by enforced lockdown and social distancing restrictions. Consumer behaviour “changed”. People became simply afraid to go out, shop, commute, or travel.
On the positive note, media consumption soared across devices and shopping behaviours moved online opening up new digital and e-commerce opportunities like never before. Isolation forced people to move online, and consumers have had to become more digital.
Through the pandemic, new jobs opened in the retail industry which ironically is also the worst hit sector in terms of lay-offs and furloughs when compared with others globally (see the chart below). New positions in stores included store clerks, shelf-stockers, cleaners, and a variety of other roles to meet an increase in the demand for groceries; to corral the rise in online grocery shopping. Another industry that is thriving right now is the banking and finance industry. People are increasingly becoming concerned about money and savings and are requesting the assistance and support of financial advisors.
Many companies have opted for a remote work model and as a result, the telecommunications industry has also seen an increase in the demand for high-speed internet and reliable mobile phone networks. Customer service jobs peaked in demand as companies are trying to keep up with an influx of customer questions and concerns. Call centres and supervising roles have also grown during this time as staff are now able to work from home.
In terms of manufacturing, the surge in demand for consumer goods and healthcare supplies has resulted in an increase in manufacturing jobs such as warehouse workers, engineers, forklift operators, etc. If there’s one industry that is doing well right now, it’s without a doubt healthcare. As we find ourselves in the midst of a healthcare crisis, more and more healthcare workers and healthcare trained professionals are needed. Jobs in hospitals and nursing have been stable, but sectors like ambulatory care and diagnostic labs have seen declines.
Although, through the outbreak, there has been optimism. In Canada, all levels of government have stepped in with policies to support Canadians that are experiencing hardships during this time. There are government-funded benefits available including EI, CERB, etc. which were introduced to ensure that Canadians are taken care of and have access to various services and get the help they need during the pandemic.
However, the job losses have been staggering. Everyone has been affected somehow. Some statistics show that younger, unmarried or less educated individuals have been hit the hardest since the pandemic, specifically those working for minimum wage. This group is also the least able to work from home since they don’t all have a college degree and receive no government benefits. Essential service and remote workers might be less affected economically but have been so brave through it all and most vulnerable to exposure and the possibility of getting sick. These include the first responders, healthcare workers, grocery clerks, pharmacists, etc. The services that they provide are needed during this time to keep a healthy economy and also make sure our day-to-day lives function with enough supplies to last. Some individuals have decided to change their regular jobs and others have volunteered in many ways to meet the growing demand for healthcare workers during the crisis.
Senior Workers Have it Rough
Another age group that has been impacted by COVID-19 are older workers. It becomes harder for seniors to bounce back after being laid off, either due to age or the lack of transferrable skills. Those roughly about fifty five years of age and over are facing a deeper and more complex situation; they are highly concerned about age discrimination. Research shows that older workers are more vulnerable to layoffs with prevailing economic uncertainties and have more difficulties getting rehired. Although Canada is an aging nation where the boomers seem to be economically a lot better off than today’s millennials, those edging towards seniors and older are becoming aware of their own limitations as time, technology, and new stages of the economy unfold.
The Unique Challenges of the Unemployed and the Underemployed
In Canada individuals that were unemployed before COVID-19 hit, are not likely to be eligible for government-funded benefits such as EI or CERB. Others won’t be eligible because they either haven’t worked enough hours during 2019 or they haven’t earned more than the minimum earnings of $5000 in the last year, according to the government website. The “new normal” for these groups hinges on the anxiety and disruption being faced by others they are connected with professionally, socially or personally.
According to a Dynata 12-country study about the impacts of COVID19 on consumers and workers, one in four of those currently unemployed had lost their job due to the pandemic. Countries with government-supported furlough grants or policies boasted higher rates of furloughs than permanent layoffs including France, Canada, UK, etc. The study further goes on to list the sectors most hit by job losses excerpted below.
The Conference Board of Canada outlines that the future of jobs is social and emotional. However, indigenous, women, youth and visible minorities continue to be disproportionately represented in high-risk low-mobility occupations or jobs in industries that are extremely prone to automation and potential job losses.
What do Market Researchers Think?
Market research allows for limitless potential to solve some of society’s biggest problems. So, I turned to a few market research professionals for some advice on how they saw their industry evolving with a view to job opportunities, skills and job searches in the pandemic and after for new graduates, managers, part-time workers, entrepreneurs, those recently laid off, and others. Many revealed that while work might have frozen since “clients are wary about data skews as consumers are now watching ever dollar spent and we have changed our habits and movements,” job seekers’ futures would rely on a lot of their own ongoing learning and development, suggesting that the remainder of the pandemic might see a boom in “return to academia”, “distance learning” and other forms of skill-enhancement.
“Increasingly skills that allow market researchers to extract insights very quickly in digestible bite-sized chunks will prevail,” said Christie Christelis, a data science and internet of things entrepreneur at TSI Global. Respondents might be getting tired of surveys, but this doesn’t mean survey research is going away, he added. However, survey engagement is going to need to be a priority, presenting opportunities for researchers to be creative and cross-dimensional. If in the past the requirement for researchers was to be methodology-focussed say on sample-design, question design, etc., now there is the added requirement of having skills in gamification, graphics, agile technologies and user experience he suggested. Further, Christelis expanded on the importance of data science skills and the ability to blend data science with other sources of information to yield much more useful insights than typical market research.
“Into this hot-pot goes all of the AI and Machine Learning skills that are now becoming critical. Imagine if we could cross-reference someone’s social media feed to their purchase patterns to their location and behaviour and many other variables, we’d never have to ask anyone their views about anything again!” Christelis hypothesized, adding that with increased automation and reduced need for human quantitative researchers comes the importance of “managing the interface between the machines and the client needs or the so-called soft skills.”
Quito Maggi of the polling firm Mainstreet Research talked about the importance of new graduates to be data literate, interdisciplinary and interconnected, master virtualization and to quickly learn handy open-source software like the R-Suite to help out “technologically less savvy” seniors in the workplace. He also suggested that virtual job and investor fairs presented new opportunities in the marketplace.
Jasmeet Kaur of the public relations and communication firm Hill+Knowlton Strategies said that Zoom meetings have become more popular than ever before and together with so many new social media platforms available today, virtual video and teleconferencing will change the way employees work permanently. Moreover, employers when looking to hire will give preference to individuals with digital and design skills who can think outside of the box. “The ability to handle massive amounts of data, particularly unstructured data is something every employer is looking for,” she stressed.
Zeynep Ayden of the insights agency Research Strategy Group added that digital and IT skills, imaginativeness, nimbleness, resourcefulness and the ability to handle virtual operations will emerge as very important skills in the post-pandemic workplace.
Paul Neto of the blockchain powered ethical data marketplace Measure Protocol took a long-term view of the labour market’s needs. “This pandemic has highlighted the requirement for a new set of skills, or one that has long been undervalued. We’ve never had such a bombardment of population-based data being showcased in the media. The implications on how this data is interpreted, the value to be derived from it, and its implications on policy and the economy are immense. I believe there is a shortage and until now a discount on what methodology, insights, data representation and data quality really mean. There are so many nuances in the data by country, region, time factor and other skillsets that this industry’s professionals are very strong in. I’d argue there isn’t another industry so rooted in these principles. The implications for brands and governments will be far fetching. It’s a moment for the industry to rise to,” he said.
Arundati Dandapani, Chief Editor of Canada’s MRIA, supported the range of views, offering that “new graduates and others will need to look to online and AI-powered models for guidance on the go. If there was ever a time for resilience to hold forth and shine, now might be it; human values and their expression will never be more pressing, and connections that drive value through not just data intelligence but also powerful frameworks of inclusivity and common-sense that help businesses, governments and societies prioritize needs through all the noise, will endure and thrive. A combination of sky-high optimism, dangerous levels of depth (aka specialization) and immense undying adaptability might help incumbents through their job-searches and quest for market share,” she concluded. For a general list of who is hiring in Canada at the moment, please visit, and to hear more about the state of jobs in the research industry tune into this June 04 ESOMAR Community Circle at a time of your choice (view recording and presentation).
Act Ahead of the Curve. Companies Should Stock up on Talent Now.
So, what about the future? We all know (or hope) that this pandemic won’t last forever, and we already see businesses reopening and planning for the “better days ahead”. It is clear that employers and employees must be able to innovate and pivot. Companies must urgently adapt their staffing strategies to thrive in an uncertain labour market. They must restructure their entire hiring processes and prepare to negotiate for the top talent when the going is still rough, by acting now. Don’t forget to include flexible work arrangements, autonomy, anti-discrimination and transparency policies to attract some of the smartest, hungriest and most unrealized talent to your teams and companies for a stronger succession plan.
Andreea Hanko has a BA in Management from York University and lives in Toronto.