Employers reported about 296,000 open jobs in the fourth quarter of 2013, says the Canadian Federation of Independent Business’ (CFIB).

The overall vacancy rate remained virtually unchanged from the previous quarter, at 2.5%

These results are based on regular surveys of CFIB members on economic and business conditions, including shortages of qualified labour. Job vacancies in the quarterly report are defined as openings that remain unfilled for at least four months because business owners haven’t been unable to find suitable employees.

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“It’s not as simple as matching any unemployed Canadian with any job opening. Often, the people and the jobs are at opposite ends of the country,” says Ted Mallett, CFIB’s chief economist and vice-president. “And for highly specialized jobs, it becomes that much harder to find the people with the right skills and experience.”

The smallest businesses (between one and four employees) continue to bear the brunt of labour shortages, with a vacancy rate of 4.6%.

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By region, the vacancy rate was highest in Saskatchewan and Alberta (3.7%). Newfoundland and Labrador (2.8%), Manitoba (2.7%) and British Columbia (2.6%) were also above the national average. Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia continued to have the lowest vacancy rates in Canada (1.9%), followed by New Brunswick and Ontario (2.1%). Quebec’s job vacancy rate remained stable, right at the national average of 2.5%.

“Although unemployment continues to be a problem in many regions, lingering labour shortages in certain parts of the economy are no less real,” adds Mallett.

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By industry, retail, hospitality and construction remain the sectors with the most job openings in Canada, each with more than 35,000 potential job openings nation-wide. Most sectors have not seen major changes over the last several quarters, with a slight increase in vacancies in the transportation sector offset by a slight downturn in oil and gas.

Says CFIB president Dan Kelly: “The labour market doesn’t always excel at bringing workers and jobs together. Sometimes it needs a little help, and we look forward to seeing how training programs like the new Canada Job Grant will address this mismatch going forward.”

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