Canadian Occupational Projection System (COPS)

Industrial Summary

Wholesale Trade

NAICS 4111-4191

This industry comprises establishments primarily engaged in wholesaling merchandise, and providing related logistic, marketing and support services. The wholesaling process is generally an intermediate step in the distribution of merchandise in large quantities to retailers, businesses and institutions. Machinery, equipment and supplies are the most important segment within the industry, accounting for 27% of production and 30% of employment in 2016. Other key segments include building material and supplies (16% of production and 15% of employment), personal and household goods (14%, 14%), food and beverages (11%, 15%), and motor vehicles and parts (8%, 7%). The industry employed 678,100 workers in 2016, mostly concentrated in Ontario (41%), Quebec (22%), British Columbia (13%) and Alberta (12%), with a workforce primarily composed of men (69%). Key occupations (4-digit NOC) include:

  • Sales and account representatives – wholesale trade (non-technical) (6411)
  • Technical sales specialists - wholesale trade (6221)
  • Retail and wholesale trade managers (0621)
  • Material handlers (7452)
  • Transport truck divers (7511)
  • Shippers and receivers (1521)
  • Supervisors, supply chain, tracking and cheduling co-ordination occupations (1215)
  • Heavy-duty equipment mechanics (7312) Accounting and related clerks (1431)
  • Retail and wholesale buyers (6222)
  • Store shelf stockers, clerks and order fillers (6622)
  • Purchasing and inventory control workers (1524)
  • Storekeepers and partspersons (1522)

Wholesale trade primarily relies on household consumption and business investment, making the industry highly sensitive to fluctuations in domestic and foreign economic conditions. As a result, the industry’s output was severely affected by the recession of 2008-2009 due to anaemic growth in consumer spending in Canada and a sizeable drop in business investment, particularly in non-residential structures and machinery and equipment. The decline in exports is an additional factor that contributed to the contraction in output, since many wholesalers are involved in international trade. While the negative impact of the recession was more severe than in any other services industries, wholesalers’ deep integration in supply chains across multiple sectors of the economy also augmented the industry’s recovery from the recession. Indeed, after falling markedly in 2009, real GDP quickly recovered in 2010 and continued to grow at a solid pace during the following six years, largely exceeding the rate of growth in the overall economy. Employment, however, remained relatively stable until 2013, before increasing substantially from 2014 to 2016, likely reflecting higher labour demand in response to stronger exports of merchandises spurred by a weaker Canadian dollar. On average, real GDP in the industry grew at an annual rate of 2.6% over the period 2007-2016, compared to 1.1% for employment. This means that a significant share of growth in output was achieved through productivity gains as new technologies, such as radio frequency identification devices, have allowed wholesalers to track their inventory more accurately with fewer workers. Increased competition from e-commerce have also helped consumers compare prices across wholesalers, putting downward pressures on profit margins and keeping hiring subdued.

Over the projection period, growth in the industry’s output is expected to weaken relative to the period 2007-2016, reflecting the slower pace of growth anticipated in consumer spending and residential investment. More specifically, the gradual slowdown projected in overall employment growth in Canada and massive retirements of baby-boomers from the labour market are expected to restrain growth in disposable income, while the decline anticipated in household formation is expected to lower investment in new housing. High household debt levels and the gradual increase anticipated in interest and mortgage rates are alo expected to constrain growth in consumer spending and residential investment. On the positive side, the industry is expected to benefit from renewed growth in business investment related to machinery and equipment and faster growth in renovation spending and non-residential investment (which includes the construction of commercial, industrial and institutional buidings and the construction of heavy and civil engineering structures). Those factors are expected to stimulate purchases of machinery and equipment and building materials and supplies, which account for the largest segments of the industry. The persistent weakness anticipated in the value of the Canadian dollar is expected to have a mixed impact for wholesalers, increasing price competitiveness for exporters but lowering price competitiveness for importers. Uncertainty with regards to the renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) may also be challenging for wholesalers involved in international transactions of merchandises. On average, real GDP in the industry is expected to increase by 1.9% annually over the period 2017-2026, compared to 0.8% for employment. Productivity-enhancing technologies related to inventory management and other logistical services are expected to continue to restrain employment growth in the industry. Increased competition from e-commerce, on-demand production and other direct-to-customer operations by manufacturers that bypass intermediates will also have many implications for supply chains and for storage, forcing wholesalers to restructure their operations and lower labour costs.

Real GDP and Employment Growth Rates in Wholesale Trade

Figure showing the annual growth of real GDP and employment over the periods 2007-2016 and 2017-2026 for the industry of Wholesale Trade . The data is shown on the table following this figure

Source: Statistics Canada (historical) and ESDC 2017 COPS industrial scenario (projections).

Text Version of Figure Real GDP and Employment Growth Rates in Wholesale Trade , 2007-2016 and 2017-2026, in Percent
  Real GDP Employment
2007-2016 2.6 1.1
2017-2026 1.9 0.8

Source: Statistics Canada (historical) and ESDC 2017 COPS industrial scenario (projections).


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