The labour market, also known as the job market, functions like other markets where there is a demand for a product or service and a source of supply to fill that demand. In the labour market, the employees, or job seekers, are considered the supply and the employers are on the demand side. This can be a very symbiotic relationship as both sides are needed and rely on each other. However, there are times when there is a surplus of one – such as more jobs than there are workers – which can upset the balance and change the conditions to favouring one side over the other.
The labour market is an important part of the economy, whether that is on a national, provincial, local, or even community level. A huge number of factors may impact the labour market and, therefore, impact the opportunities for workers to find meaningful employment. The greater the number of jobs, the greater the opportunity to find work that is a good fit for who you are and connects with your program of study. When the labour market contracts, resulting in fewer job opportunities, those seeking employment may need to make tough choices about what work they are willing to take.
Understanding and exploring the labour market is an important component of career exploration, helping you learn about different types of jobs, career paths, and industries that exist in your labour market. The “your” is important… a job that is in-demand on the other side of the country does not help if the job doesn’t exist or there are more workers than jobs in the region in which you need to work.
It can be difficult to figure out how many different occupations exist within the labour market. Canada’s National Occupation Classification System lists about 40,000 different ones but these lists are constantly evolving. New occupations are being added to the labour market regularly, and many jobs no longer exist. The same occupation – Accountant, for example – can be done in an incredibly different way depending on area of specialization, industry, and even geographical region. You can discover new/emerging occupations such as cybersecurity specialist or someone who works in artificial intelligence; even occupations with a long history (e.g., farmer) have gone through radical shifts from years ago. Understanding what’s available in the labour market can help you discover the incredible opportunities that exist, often ones you’ve never heard of before. This, in turn, helps to focus and target your job search.
Discover the demand for a particular industry/occupation in your region, and beyond which can tell whether the occupation is growing and how much. Any occupation with high growth likely equals improved opportunities to find, and secure, meaningful employment. Occupations with low demand, or even negative growth, should likely be avoided.
Identify the skills/training required, along with those that may be more optional, but still important. These may be specific technical, or hard, skills (e.g., ability to use a piece of equipment, or type of software) or employability/soft skills (e.g., communication, flexibility, patience). Similarly, you may discover occupations that need a bachelors' degree or even a masters' or doctoral degree or those that need a diploma plus, perhaps, some type of apprenticeship.
Stay current in your field, especially with a focus on trends – local, national, and international – that may impact you, either now or in the future. Whether new technologies that are revolutionizing your industry, professional associations/designations that are emerging or becoming important (e.g., the counselling profession is a good example as these have become regulated in Canada over the past several years, with more regions exploring this issue), corporate mergers, or any other factor that might – ultimately – impact the way work is done.
Identify potential employers, providing ideas on who to target for informational interviews. This allows you to make personal connections so that you can learn more about the type of work you are exploring, specific industries of interest, and employers you may want to want to work for. It also gives you an advantage in accessing the hidden job market.
Learn about the average salary for the occupation you are exploring, even when there can be a large variance depending on skills, education, region, employer, and more. The key is ensuring that the occupation you are exploring, in a particular area, has a salary that would allow you to support yourself.
Explore what a day-in-the-life looks like, giving you a chance to really visualize what workers do every day. There is sometimes a tendency to idealize an occupation when, in reality, they aren’t as exciting as they may seem. Best to discover this now, rather than when you’ve locked yourself into a choice.
There are many good sources of labour market information, though no single source will likely have all you need. Although there are too many to list – here is where Google comes in handy – here are a few to get you started.