Despite Canada’s top jobless rate, reason for optimism in Windsor area

Dave Waddell/The Windsor Star

The Windsor region once again has the highest unemployment rate in Canada, but local economic development officials said that isn’t viewed as a negative by the many companies looking at possibly locating to the area.

April’s unemployment rate rose to 6.7 per cent while the national rate remained unchanged at five per cent and the provincial rate dipped slightly, by 0.2 per cent, to 4.9 per cent.

“Looking at the site selection process, labour is one of the three most important categories, along with cost and quality,” said Invest WindsorEssex CEO Stephen MacKenzie.

“It sounds counterintuitive not wanting a really low unemployment rate because you want people to be working, making good wages and having a good quality of life, but a rate of 6.7 per cent isn’t viewed negatively by companies when you’re talking about foreign direct investment.

“It means when we get a company or an existing company locally, they see a potential workforce when labour is tight globally. The ranking might not look good, but it doesn’t hurt us at all in recruiting or retention.”

MacKenzie added business looks more closely at categories such as the size of the labour force and population and whether both are growing when it comes to assessing the workforce.

“To me those are far more important numbers,” he said. “It shows actual trends.

“We have both a growing workforce and population, so I’m not concerned about one month’s unemployment rate. We’re definitely in growth mode.”

In April, the Windsor census metropolitan area, which includes Lakeshore, Tecumseh, LaSalle and Amherstburg, saw the workforce grow by 800 people to a record 204,500. That’s an increase of 25,800 since last August.

The population grew by 700 people for the second consecutive month and there’s been an increase of 2,500 new residents to the area in the first four months of 2023.

Workforce WindsorEssex CEO Justin Falconer noted the robustness of the local economy is reflected by the growth of job vacancies outpacing the population growth.

“We’ve had four months of 6,000-job postings on our board,” Falcon said. “Demand has remained consistently high.

“I remain very optimistic about the rest of the year. We know the electric vehicle sector will be hiring later this year. All the underlying numbers are positive.”

Falconer added the employment rate is also up 3.4 per cent over April 2022 while the participation rate is up 3.9 per cent. He said to capitalize on the available workforce, local organizations are putting together or are already offering programs to up-skill, retrain and offer micro credentials.

“The overall size of the available workforce, those working and those looking to work, that pie is growing,” Falconer said. “That’s what companies want to see in an area, especially when workforce is harder to find across the board.”

Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Rakesh Naidu said the rise of April’s unemployment rate was predictable given that the Windsor Assembly Plant and its local supply chain were down for two weeks, including the week of Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey April 15.

While having a larger pool of potential workers to draw on than many other communities is an advantage in the current labour market, said Naidu, companies are also recognizing the value of the versatility of the area’s workforce.

“As all sectors need more tech experience and know-how, they’re realizing the skills of the local workforce are transferable to their sectors,” he said. “There’s been a convergence of the sectors.

“They’ve seen the skills in the automotive and automation sectors are adaptable for their growth in ways people never thought was possible before.”