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The COVID-19 Pandemic and Demand for Personal Support Workers

Labour Market Trends & Skills Needs
February 04, 2022
1313904482

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on personal support workers (PSWs), many of whom have been risking their own health to care for others. Many of these workers are burning out and are pushing for improved working conditions while the country is facing dire staffing shortages. Previous reports in this Labour Market Insights series, opens in new window highlighted a general decline in the number of job postings in 2020, signalling lower labour demand across a wide range of sectors. However, certain occupations showed the opposite trend, and demand for them has increased since the onset of the pandemic. For instance, in Ontario, the number of job postings for home support workers, housekeepers, and related occupations has increased, opens in new window by 29% since 2019, aligning with media, external link, opens in new window reports, external link, opens in new window highlighting the dire need for these workers.

To dig deeper, we examined the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the labour demands for PSWs. This project uses insights from Vicinity Jobs, external link’ online job posting data to better understand the extent and patterns of the growing demand for PSWs that has been instigated by this pandemic. We also highlight the skills and certifications that are necessary to become a PSW to help fill this gap. As there is significant variability in the type of work carried out by PSWs in various job settings, we specifically focus on PSWs who work in home and community care (i.e., home support workers), who account for PDF filenearly half, external link of those working in the occupation.

Our analyses are based on the Vicinity Jobs database, which uses the National Occupation Classification, external link (NOC) system to classify jobs; however, the NOC does not include a code for “personal support workers.” Based on our scan of the available NOC codes, “home support workers, housekeepers and related occupations (4412)” most closely mirrors the duties of PSWs and thus is used as the focus of our analysis.

Many of these workers are burning out and are pushing for improved working conditions while the country is facing dire staffing shortages.

Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Hiring Demand

Hiring Demand Between 2018 and 2021

In 2020, there were 27,958 job postings for home support workers and related occupations. Overall, labour demand for PSWs has been slightly increasing over the past three years, even with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, demand for PSWs in the April–December period increased by 15% from 2019 to 2020 and by another 15% from 2020 to 2021, illustrating the increasing demand for PSWs during the COVID-19 pandemic. The increase in labour demand from 2019 to 2020 in this period was greater than the growth observed in the preceding years.

Figure 1. Hiring demand for home support workers, housekeepers, and related occupations (2018–2021)
Figure 1. Hiring demand for home support workers, housekeepers, and related occupations (2018–2021)

Hiring Demand by Province

We compared the number of job postings for PSWs in 2019 and 2020 across the provinces. The most populous provinces account for the majority of hiring demand for home support workers. Ontario, British Columbia, and Quebec respectively account for 60%, 14%, and 8% of all job postings for home support workers in Canada in 2020. The overall increase in demand for home support workers in 2020 relative to 2019 is driven largely by increased demand in Ontario and Quebec. In these two provinces, hiring demand for home support workers increased by 20% and 4%, respectively. In Alberta and Saskatchewan, hiring demand decreased by 10% and 25%, respectively. These increases somewhat mirror the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic in each province during the same period: at the end of 2020, the case counts, external link in Ontario and Quebec were the highest among the provinces, respectively making up 31.9% and 34.7% of the total case count in Canada.

Figure 2. Hiring demand for home support workers, by province
Figure 2. Hiring demand for home support workers, by province

Note: The “Territories” column includes data for Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon.

Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Skills

Given the increased demand for PSWs, we also sought to understand which skills are needed to fill these roles and whether skills requirements have changed due to the pandemic. Using Vicinity Jobs data, we analyzed the requirements listed in job postings that were related to skills, certificates, and education.

Certifications and Accreditations

We extracted information on certification requirements in PSW job postings from January 1 to April 30, 2021. Half of the job postings from this period (52%) did not list specific certifications as a requirement. However, among the other half that did list certification requirements, many listed more than one certification. A driver’s license is the top certification required, included in 48% of all job postings for home support workers. First aid was the second-most requested certification, included in 38% of job postings. Personal support worker certification and CPR certification were each required by only about one-third of job postings, and health care aide certification and basic cardiac life support certification were each required by less than 10% of job postings. There was minimal difference in the certification requirements of job postings from 2019, 2020, and 2021.

Table 1. Ranking and share of job postings of the most common required certifications 
Type of Certification Ranking in 2019 Ranking in 2020 Ranking in 2021 Share of Job Postings Requiring the Certification in 2021
Driver's License 1 1 1 48%
First Aid Ceritifcation 2 2 2 38%
Personal Support Worker Certification 4 4 3 34%
CPR Certification 3 3 4 32%
Health Care Aide Certification 5 5 5 9%
Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System Certificate 7 7 6 8%
Basic Cardiac Life Support Certification 6 6 7 8%
Certification of Conduct 8 8 8 2%

Note: The share of job postings column does not add to 100% because job postings may identify more than one type of certification as required.

Demand for Skills

Vicinity Jobs data on job postings for the period of January 1 to April 30, 2021, identified communication skills, flexibility, and first aid as the top three skills required by employers for home support workers. Each of these skills was mentioned by at least one-third of job postings. Overall, the top skills in demand for this occupation are very similar to the skills in demand for other occupations. However, first aid, CPR, and being a self-starter are also in-demand skills for this occupation, though they do not rank in the top ten skills for aggregate job postings.

Comparing the same time period in 2021, 2020, and 2019, almost all the top ten skills for PSWs in 2021 were also among the top ten skills in 2020 and 2019. The only skill that declined noticeably in 2021 was English language, which was ranked first in 2019 and second in 2020 but dropped to seventh in 2021.

These findings align with more recent data from the Labour Market Information Council, external link, opens in new window that shows that in July 2021 alone, among 3,100 online job postings relating to home support workers and other related occupations, 36% required communication skills, 31% required flexibility, and 25% required First Aid skills.

Table 2. Top ten in-demand skills from job postings 
Top Ten Skills Ranking in 2019 Ranking in 2020 Ranking in 2021 Share of Job Postings Listing the Skill in 2021
Communication Skills 2 1 1 44%
Flexibility 3 5 2 38%
First Aid 4 4 3 35%
Teamwork 5 3 4 32%
Interpersonal Skills 6 6 5 30%
CPR 7 7 6 29%
English Language 1 2 7 27%
Customer Service 8 8 8 23%
Organizational Skills 9 9 9 22%
Self-Starter/Self-Motivated 10 11 10 17%

Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Wages

An examination of PSW wages from 2019 to 2021 shows that wages for home support workers have increased over the last two years.[1] The average hourly wage in 2021 increased by 10% relative to the wage rate in the same period in 2020. This wage increase coincides with an increased investment in supporting PSWs across the provinces. For instance, the Government of Ontario to announced wage raises, external link, opens in new window for personal support workers for the period of October 2020 and March 2021, including an additional $3 per hour for personal support workers employed in private homes and $2 per hour for those employed in equivalent hospital positions. Similarly, Quebec offered bonuses of up to $1,000 per month, external link, opens in new window for anyone working with seniors in care. More recently, Alberta pledged to provide up to $36 million in funding, external link, opens in new window to increase wages for home care providers and for those working in continuing care.

An interesting pattern emerges when we compare the variation of wages across 2019, 2020, and 2021. When comparing the median income, the hourly wage increased from 2020 to 2021 but remained stagnant between 2019 and 2020. However, a comparison of the standard deviations reveals that there was more variation in wages in 2020 and 2021 relative to the same period in 2019. This suggests that there was a wider range of wages offered for PSW jobs depending on the employer: some employers may have increased wages substantially, while others may have maintained or even decreased wages. Additionally, these findings suggest that the increase in average wages was primarily attributable to wage increases for those at the higher end of the earning spectrum, where the PSWs who earned more than the average likely earned higher wages after the pandemic, while wages stagnated for those whose earnings fell in the middle or lower end of the earning spectrum.

Looking across all provinces and territories, average wages for home support workers in 2021 were higher in the three territories, Alberta, and Ontario. Wages were lowest in Prince Edward Island and Manitoba. The average hourly wage in Prince Edward Island was approximately 30% lower than the Canadian average. There does not seem to be a correlation between the wages of PSWs and the severity of the pandemic when looking across the provinces and territories.

Figure 3. Average hourly wage (January–March)
Figure 3. Average hourly wage (January–March)
Table 3. Distribution of hourly wages for job postings in the period of January–March ($/hr)
Year Median 95th Percentile Standard Deviation
2019 17 22 3
2020 17 23 7
2021 18 26 11
Figure 4. Average hourly wage for home support workers, by province/territory (2021)

Note: The “Territories” column includes data for Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon.

These findings suggest that the increase in average wages was primarily attributable to wage increases for those at the higher end of the earning spectrum, where the PSWs who earned more than the average likely earned higher wages after the pandemic, while wages stagnated for those whose earnings fell in the middle or lower end of the earning spectrum.

Conclusion

Despite the general decline in labour demand since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for PSWs has increased, aligning with reports from news media. This increase has been primarily driven by the province of Ontario, followed by Quebec. The pandemic had little impact on the skills in demand and required certifications for PSWs. Aside from a sharp decline in the demand for English language skills, other in-demand skills remained stable, with communication skills and flexibility remaining the most commonly sought skills in PSWs. A driver’s license and first aid certification were also consistently the top two required certifications for PSWs from 2019 to 2021. The average wages for PSWs increased from 2019 to 2021, but this was primarily attributable to increased wages for PSWs at the higher end of the earning spectrum.

As this analysis focuses specifically on PSWs working in home care and community settings, it would be interesting to examine how these trends compare to PSWs who work in long-term care homes, who make up PDF fileover half, external link, opens in new window of all PSWs. Additionally, as 2022 has begun with the Omicron wave threatening the health care workforce, policymakers are urged to strategize about how to attract, train, and retain PSWs to ensure that our health care systems are better equipped to handle future disruptions. 

[1] To control for possible fluctuations in wages across a single year, we restricted our analysis to between January 1 and March 31 of each year.

Figures & Tables Data Sourced from Vicinity Jobs, external link ‘Hiring Demand Analytics Suite’.

Labour Market Insights

A research series by the Diversity Institute

Reports in the Labour Market Insights from the Diversity Institute series cover a variety of topics relevant to the study of labour markets and are based on analyses of collated data from online job postings across Canada, as well as other traditional and innovative data sources. This project is funded by the Government of Canada’s Future Skills Centre, external link, opens in new window.