Occupational Outlook

This page examines occupational employment trends in Nova Scotia arising from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. It focuses on occupations that have been most impacted across various segments of the economy, as well as those in-demand by employers. The occupational analysis is organized by broad occupation category. Details on the impacts for each occupation are found in the expanded outlook section of each profile.

0 - Management

Management occupations accounted for about 33,000, or 7.3%, of Nova Scotia’s total employment in 2019. Managers work in all sectors of the economy, so the amount they have been affected by COVID-19 depends mainly on the industry they work in. For example, managers in retail, food service, and accommodations—sectors that have been hit hard by closures and physical distancing requirements—are more likely to have been laid off at some point in 2020 than managers in health care and public administration.

Looking forward, the same relationship applies: the number of managers in growing sectors like information technology is expected to increase, while in industries that are struggling to adapt to the pandemic further layoffs at the management level are possible. This occupational category has the highest rate of retirements, which will continue to be a source of opportunities.

Below is a select group of occupations that have either been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic or are in high demand.  

1 - Business, Finance and Administration

Business, finance, and administration occupations was the second-largest occupational category in Nova Scotia in 2019, with 67,500 workers. Many jobs in this category can be done remotely, which has allowed workers to continue in their roles while following public health directions. However, this occupational category has not been entirely unaffected by the pandemic. Some office workers in administrative and support type roles are employed by businesses that were forced to close temporarily, like retail stores, dental offices, and spas. Some professional services companies like accounting firms anticipated a loss of revenue and engaged in cost-cutting measures. In some cases, those measures resulted in layoffs and lower earnings. In the longer run, technological developments may reduce the need for lower skill-level roles or increase the skill-level required for such occupations.

Below is a select group of occupations that have either been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic or are in high demand.

2 - Engineering, Math, Science and Information Technology

Natural and applied sciences and related occupations, which employed 29,650 workers in 2019, have fared relatively well throughout the pandemic. Most employees in this category were able to continue working under the Health Protection Act Order, and very few were affected by the targeted closures of certain types of business between March and June. Employment prospects have generally been good for professionals in various fields of engineering, and the number of workers in computer and information systems occupations has been steadily growing in Nova Scotia in recent years. With a few exceptions, broadly favourable conditions are expected to continue in this occupational category. The increase in remote work may provide jobseekers in Nova Scotia with a greater range of opportunities and, in some fields, exert upward pressure on local wages.

Below is a select group of occupations that have either been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic or are in high demand.

3 - Health

There were 45,850 workers in health occupations in Nova Scotia in 2019, representing nearly one-tenth of the provincial workforce. Strong demand for many of the occupations in this category existed prior to COVID-19, and the pandemic has only reinforced this trend. Employment in certain occupations increased this year as the provincial government set up networks for testing and tracing the virus. Some private long-term care facilities also hired additional staff to cover the increased number of absences expected when workers with symptoms self-isolate. Employment in this occupational category has an inherently higher personal health risk. During the first wave, several dozen workers contracted the virus after being exposed at work. Others experienced burnout from covering absent coworkers as well as the extra workload associated with enhanced sanitization requirements. Beyond the pandemic, major trends shaping this occupational category are the needs of the aging population, the transition to collaborative primary care, and the increasing popularity of homecare.

Below is a select group of occupations that have either been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic or are in high demand.

4 - Education, Law, Government, Social and Community Services

Occupations in education, law, and social community and government services employed 53,800 workers in Nova Scotia in 2019, comprising 11.5% of the workforce. Though layoffs were less widespread in this occupational category than in some others, many workers have experienced major disruptions in their roles and responsibilities due to the pandemic. Daycares were temporarily closed during the first wave of cases, and had fewer attendees return after reopening. Elementary and secondary school teachers transitioned to a limited online teaching format when public schools closed in the spring, leaving many classroom support staff unable to complete their regular duties. Universities laid off part-time teaching staff and research assistants in anticipation of a decrease in tuition revenue. The justice system was not prepared to switch to virtual proceedings, leading to a backlog of court cases and changes to long-established processes to meet physical distancing requirements. Job availability in many occupations in this group is subject to government spending – likely to see some restraint in coming years as governments aim to balance budgets following the pandemic.

Below is a select group of occupations that have either been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic or are in high demand.

5- Art, Culture, Recreation and Sport

Occupations in art, culture, recreation, and sport was the smallest occupational category in 2019, with 10,900 workers. Many occupations in this group have been severely affected by COVID-19. For creative and performing artists, physical distancing requirements and limits on gathering sizes prevent audience sizes large enough to generate enough revenue. These rules have also created challenges for some occupations related to athletic programs and events. For many workers in this category, tourists—and the province’s many summer festivals that cater to them—are a key source of income. The major decline in the number of visitors from outside the province this year prompted the cancellation of many big events. Travel restrictions also caused a slowdown in the film and television sector, as many workers come from out of province, however, this trend was reversed later in the summer. The recovery of this occupational category will depend largely on the removal of gathering size limits and the state of the tourism season in 2021.

Below is a select group of occupations that have either been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic or are in high demand.

6 - Sales and Service

Sales and service occupations is the largest occupational category in Nova Scotia by a wide margin. There were more than 130,250 workers in this category in 2019, accounting for more than one-quarter of provincial employment. During the first wave of the pandemic, tens of thousands of employees in this group were laid off as restaurant dining rooms and most nonessential retail stores closed. The rebound in employment after reopening has been slow. Many restaurants that are dependent on seasonal tourism revenue struggled to recover financially from the two-and-a-half-month closure in the spring. Amid uncertainty about business conditions in the months to come, some employers have declined to rehire all their pre-pandemic staff. Others have indicated that lower staffing levels are beyond their control, as COVID-19 appears to have reduced the supply of workers in certain occupations. For many employees in this category, conditions still are not back to normal. Weeks and months after reopening, several retail stores and restaurants announced that they are closing permanently. Additionally, as of late November, dining rooms in the greater Halifax area were once again forced to close temporarily due to viral community spread.

Below is a select group of occupations that have either been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic or are in high demand.

7 - Trades and Transportation

Trades, transport and equipment operators and related occupations employed 64,000 in 2019, which is just under 14% of the workforce. For many construction occupations in this category, the pandemic has not been the deciding factor of labour market outcomes this year. Some effects of the Health Protection Act Order were felt in the spring when physical distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE) were introduced on private construction sites. However, a surge of construction activity in both the residential and non-residential sectors quickly cancelled out the pandemic’s impact on demand. For less specialized construction occupations, like carpenters, labourers, and helpers, conditions are strong throughout the province and are expected to improve even further in 2021. Options for specialized tradespersons and heavy equipment operators are more dependent on where they live and what projects are underway in their area, though a higher-than-usual number of healthcare, highway, and private sector projects will put them in high demand too. For transportation workers, the pandemic has had a somewhat larger effect. A pre-existing shortage of long-haul truck drivers has become more severe due to the greater risk of being exposed to the virus in another province or in the U.S.

Below is a select group of occupations that have either been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic or are in high demand.

8 - Farming, Fishing, Forestry, and Mining

In 2019, there were 14,250 workers in farming, fishing, forestry, and mining, making up 3.1% of the province’s total workforce. Some occupations in this category were impacted by the pandemic through disruptions to market conditions. For those employed in the fishing industry, a severe decline in the demand and price of lobster represented an abrupt change from relatively lucrative seasons in recent years. While this would not affect the number of license-holders on the water, some may hire fewer deckhands in anticipation of reduced income this year. Conditions for workers in agriculture were little changed due to COVID- 19, though restrictions on international travellers resulted in temporary foreign workers arriving a bit later and in slightly fewer numbers than usual. A variety of occupations in the forestry industry experienced upheaval because of the closure of the Northern Pulp mill. There are shortage conditions in some occupations in this category unrelated to the pandemic, particularly in rural communities where the number of youth, who traditionally performed seasonal, physically-demanding work, has been in decline.

Below is a select group of occupations that have either been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic or are in high demand.

9 - Manufacturing and Utilities

Occupations in this category, which employed 15,950 in 2019, span a variety of types of manufacturing. Overall, the manufacturing industry has not been heavily impacted by physical-distancing requirements, though some employers have had to contend with supply chain disruptions or temporarily send home a portion of their workforce. One of the province’s major manufacturing subsets—fish and seafood processing—has faced weak demand for lobster products because of the pandemic, resulting in fewer shifts for employees at some plants. Some larger employers in rural or isolated communities have had increasing difficulty finding enough labourers, particularly when there is a seasonal component to production. One bright spot in this category is the opportunities created by the growing number of beverage producers in all parts of the province. Sawmills have experienced multiple changes in conditions over the past year. Many sawmills lost their main purchaser of wood chips when Northern Pulp closed, making production uneconomical for some. However, the large increase in lumber prices granted mills a reprieve and resulted in a 25% increase in the value of exported sawmill products.

Below is a select group of occupations that have either been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic or are in high demand.