Overall, the province had a decrease in employment (4.7%) in 2020 that was driven by full-time and part-time job loses (-4.1% and -7.2%, respectively). The service sector lost 13,600 (-4.6%) full-time jobs and lost 6,500 (-8.0%) part-time jobs. The goods sector lost 1,700 (-2.1%) full-time jobs and gained 300 (6.0%) part-time jobs.

Nova Scotia’s goods-producing sector accounted for 19.3% of provincial employment in 2020. Two industries in the goods-producing sector experienced employment declines in 2020 compared to 2019: Construction experienced a loss of 900 jobs (-2.6%) and Forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, oil and gas lost 800 jobs (-7.3%).

There were more jobs added to the goods-producing industries in the Utilities where employment grew with 200 positions (5.7%). Two industries maintained their employment levels, Agriculture and Manufacturing. While overall the goods-producing sector has not been as affected by the economic consequences of COVID-19, the unemployment rate in these industries continues to be higher in comparison to the services-producing sector by 3.9 percentage points (10.9% goods sector and 7.0% services sector).

Although employment decreased in the services-producing sector in 2020, three out of 11 industries experienced small expansions. The highest growth (6.1%) occurred in Professional, scientific, and technical which gained 1,700 jobs. It was followed by Finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing where 1,300 jobs were added and Public administration which gained 900 jobs.

The remaining eight industries all experienced contractions in employment. The most significant loss of jobs was in Wholesale and retail trade with a loss of 11,100 jobs (-13.7%), Accommodations and food services lost 6,300 jobs (-18.1%) and Information, culture and recreation lost 3,000 jobs (-16.5%).

The highest unemployment rate in 2020 (14.7%) in the services-producing sector was in the Accommodations and food services industry and in the goods sector the Forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, oil & gas (20.8%) although it is lower than it was in 2019.

Employment and Unemployment by Industry Group


In 2020, four out of ten occupational groups had increased employment and overall employment fell by 4.7% from 2019.

  • Occupations in Sales and services experienced the largest decrease (-14.2%).
  • Occupations in manufacturing had the largest employment increase (8.2%).
  • Sales and service occupations continued to employ the largest number of people and accounted for 25.2% of overall employment.
  • Occupations in natural resources, agriculture and related production had the largest unemployment rate (18.9%) of all occupational groups in 2020.
  • Health occupations had the lowest unemployment rate (2.1%).

The overall unemployment rate in Nova Scotia was 9.8% which is the highest it has been since 1998. The highest median hourly wage in 2020 was in management occupations ($38.46) while the lowest was in sales and service occupations ($14.55).

Occupational Group Ages 15 years and over Employment, Unemployment, and Median Wage

Goods-Producing Sector Trends

Data in the graphs below is indexed to the year 2010 (post Great Recession period) to show trends and to compare with the Canadian economy. After 2010, a clear gap appeared between national employment growth and provincial employment in the goods producing sector that has continued to widen over time.

Between 2010 and 2019, employment in Nova Scotia’s good-producing sector has decreased 1.9%, whereas at the national level it has grown 6.2%.  However, with the economic shock of the COVID-19 pandemic, employment in the goods sector dropped 5% at the national level but fell only 2% in Nova Scotia from 2019 to 2020.

Indexed Goods Sector Employment, 2010 to 2020, Canada and Nova Scotia

Service-Producing Sector Trends

Employment in the service-producing sector was increasing at national and provincial levels from 2010 to 2019, though growth had faster nationally. After peaking in 2013, relative to 2010, employment growth in Nova Scotia’s service-producing sector went on a downward trend until 2017. With the arrival of COVID-19, employment in Nova Scotia’s service-producing sector fell below 2015 levels (previously the lowest since 2010).

Indexed Service Sector Employment, 2010 to 2020, Canada and Nova Scotia


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