Canada is home to a rapidly growing and diverse tech workforce. In today’s labour market, tech jobs exist in all industries and contexts. While these jobs have often proven resilient in recessions, the unique context of COVID-19 pandemic-induced recession means the economic impact on tech workers is harder to predict. For example, low consumer confidence and supply chain disruptions have forced businesses to cut back on new projects and focus on infrastructure maintenance. In the United States (US), such a tendency has led to a significant drop in demand for front-end developers, engineers with specific programming expertise, technical consultants, software developers, and graphic designers.
On the other hand, the COVID-19 crisis has presented unique opportunities for tech workers. As many people’s daily lives increasingly take place online and businesses of all kinds shift to online ordering and service channels, tech workers are becoming critical to the success of most industries. In the US labour market, job openings for roles such as cybersecurity engineer, web developers, and systems engineer saw double-digit growth. As the pandemic has reshaped work and will undoubtedly continue to do so, technology is likely to become even more important. At the same time, the economic impact of COVID-19 on individual tech workers may still vary. TrustRadius’s April 2020 survey of 760 tech professionals in the US found that women in tech were 1.6 times more likely to be furloughed than men, who tend to have more seniority and less childcare burden. Specifically, among recent CERB recipients with children below the age of 18, mothers were more likely to be out of the labour force (52.7 percent) than fathers (40.8 percent). COVID-19 has also disproportionately affected visible minority workers, especially South Asian, Arab, and Black Canadians.
Building on our research defining tech workers and tech occupations, we use the Labour Force Survey (LFS) from February to May 2020 to analyze the economic impact of COVID-19 on Canada’s tech workers.
Our findings show that:
- Compared to the rest of the economy, tech jobs are more resilient: the initial shock only decreased overall employment by 4.2 percent and by May tech worker employment had fully recovered to its pre-pandemic levels.
- Though women tech workers experienced a smaller employment shock than men (2.2 percent compared to 4.6 percent), their employment recovery in May has been slower.
- More recent immigrant tech workers (those who immigrated to Canada less than 10 years ago), saw little employment disruption, while less recent immigrants (those who immigrated to Canada more than 10 years ago) in tech occupations saw major initial employment disruption—and slow recovery.
Tech work has been resilient through the crisis
The impact of COVID-19 on the general labour market has been staggering—between February and April 2020, employment levels on the whole decreased by 15 percent. However, employment levels for tech workers only decreased by 4.2 percent in the same period. By May 2020, when some portions of the Canadian economy started opening up, tech employment had recovered to the pre-shut down level of February 2020, even though employment levels for the rest of the economy were still 13.2 percent below February. Though many factors could explain these differences, our previous research has highlighted the relatively higher ease of transitioning tech work to remote work, as well as the increased demand for digital services from the (perhaps temporary) shift to online services, shopping, work, and learning.