According to StatsCan estimates, the city lost around 1,300 jobs in education between June and July. And there's plenty of anecdotal evidence of struggles in the local education sector. For example, Laurentian University is reducing spending on its five-year strategic plan by about $5 million. Cambrian College, faced with a $10 million budget shortfall, cut programs and spending to balance its books.
With enrolment declining by hundreds of students every year, local school boards are feeling the pinch. The Rainbow District School Board cut dozens of positions, with the Catholic board cutting jobs, as well.
According to a 2012 study by the Ontario College of Teachers, a surge in the number of people studying to become teachers that began 13 years ago was met by a decline in the number of teachers in Ontario who retire every year.
Between 1998 and 2002, the number of new teachers entering the workforce each year averaged about 9,200, while the number of teachers who retired averaged about 7,200, a difference of 2,000.
But in the last decade, the number of retirements dropped by more than 50 per cent, even as the number new teachers looking for work soared, reaching more than 12,000 in 2011. A gap of 2,000 in 2002 had grown to 7,800.
Despite those statistics, Jason Gilmore, a senior analyst with Statistics Canada, said the June-July decline should be taken with a big ''grain of salt.'' While overall employment has been flat in Sudbury's educuation sector for a few years, Gilmore said looking at month-to-month changes isn't a big enough sample to draw any conclusions. Employment in education always dips significantly at the end of the school year, he said, no matter where you live.
“Certain employees in the education sector are laid off every year at the beginning of July – education assistants, for example,” Gilmore said. “Usually their contracts are 10 months in length. So a drop in employment in education services is not unexpected in any region.”
However, the drop historically this time of year in Sudbury is around 500, out of a education workforce of around 7,000 or 8,000. Looking back a few years, the drop is normally in the 200-800 range, so the 1,300 figure is much bigger than usual. But it could be “an anomaly,” Gilmore said. It's too soon to conclude there's a crisis, because of how the job information is collected.
Broadly speaking, national statistics are more accurate than provincial statistics, while province-wide stats are more accurate than individual city statistics. So when you look at just one sector in one city, there's a huge margin of error.
When collecting its monthly labour statistics, usually about 750 households in Sudbury are surveyed, Gilmore said, or about 1,500 people. Of that number, about 65 could work in education.
Their responses are extrapolated to give the employment estimate for the entire eduction sector in the city. If a higher number of those people happened to lose their job that month, it would skewer the results.
“The more you break it down, the more sampling variability you're going to have,” Gilmore said “So I would be cautious about (concluding) that there's been a real notable decline in education employment in Greater Sudbury.
“It only takes a few people in any given month to make a big change in the statistics, because we are dealing with small sample size. So it's hard to make a definitive statement about the change you're observing in June and July.”
What would be a more worrisome trend, he said, is if the size of the education sector declines over a longer period, with employment numbers not rebounding year-to-year.
“The operative word is trend,” he said. “You would have to look at a number of Julys over time.”