Portrait of Jeff Holmes, 26, who is one of 1,200 new hires at the FCA Windsor Assembly Plant. Holmes is pictured outside of the plant on March 11, 2016.
Jeff Holmes has been an employee at Windsor Assembly since September but he already has between 700 and 800 people below him on the seniority list.
Among 1,200 new hires at FCA Canada’s minivan plant, Holmes, 26, feels secure enough in his job to move out of his parents’ house and buy a new car, preferably a Jeep model.
“The future is exciting,” said Holmes. “I’ve been looking to buy a new home for two years, and now that I have seniority I feel safe and secure.”
He can also count himself among the workers who are contributing to a significant drop in the Windsor-area’s unemployment rate.
The local jobless rate fell from 9.3 per cent in January to 7.7 per cent last month, according to Statistics Canada. The national jobless rate rose to 7.3 per cent in February as Canada lost 2,300 jobs, while Ontario’s rate edged up to 6.8 from 6.7.
The 1.6 per cent drop in the local jobless rate means Windsor is no longer the unemployment capital of Canada, transferring that title to Montreal, which posted a jobless rate last month of 8.7 per cent.
Other municipalities with jobless rates higher than Windsor include: Saguenay, Que., and St. Catharines-Niagara at 8.5 per cent, Calgary at 8.4 per cent, St. John, N.B., Greater Sudbury at 8.3 per cent and Kelowna, B.C. at 8.1 per cent.
The number of people employed locally increased to 156,600 last month from 154,600 in January — a monthly gain of 2,000, said Vincent Ferrao, analyst at Statistics Canada.
Manufacturing can take the credit for lowering the local jobless rate by increasing the number people employed in that sector from 29,100 in February of 2015 to 40,700 last month, said Ferrao.A Dodge Grand Caravan makes its way down the line at the Windsor Assembly Plant, Monday, Feb. 9, 2015.
Ontario, B.C. and Quebec also saw year-over-year manufacturing gains, Ferrao added.
Mike Moffatt, economist at Western University in London, said it’s too early to tell whether Windsor’s lower rate is part of a long-term trend or a fluke.
“There are overall reasons for optimism as employment number have been steadily improving over time,” said Moffatt. “I would be cautious of big changes in a one-month survey because history shows nine times out of 10 that ends up being a statistical fluke.
“We should have a clear picture by June or July.”
The jobless statistics come on the heels of a report from the Conference Board of Canada, which forecast a two per cent growth for Windsor’s GDP in 2016.
The report cited a ” healthy U.S. economy and weaker Canadian dollar have breathed some life into the manufacturing sector, especially Ontario’s auto sector.”
It also predicted employment growth for Windsor, but at a much more modest 0.4 per cent — down from a more “vigorous” increase of 2.8 per cent in 2015.
Holmes said he applied at FCA Canada after unsuccessful efforts to find employment in his field of study — law enforcement.
“It was hard to get into anything,” he said.
Getting hired at Windsor Assembly is “a complete honour,” said Holmes, who works on a line that installs liftgates onto both the Caravan and Pacifica.
“The new Pacifica is just a beautiful vehicle,” he said. “It makes us feel confident about the future, knowing that people will want to buy it.”