Ah, Alberta. Back in the middle part of the last decade, it was the place to be for Canadian job-seekers. Young graduates had their choice of plum positions as employers were competing against each other for talent. Then it all fell apart – at least temporarily. After peaking at nearly 2.1 million people employed in October of 2008, the economy shed 92,000 jobs. Many of the remaining workers were thrown into less-desirable part-time jobs. Others without work struck out on their own and became self-employed. In percentage terms, Alberta’s job market was hit harder than any other province.
Is Alberta back?
With some 13,700 new jobs added in the province in February – on top of the nearly 21,000 created in January – the year is off to a rip-roaring start in Alberta. Since the pit of the recession (in terms of employment) in March 2010, Alberta has gained back 78 per cent of the jobs that had been lost. That is still below the Canadian average, which had recaptured 100 per cent of the lost jobs by the end of last year. But the pace of job creation in Alberta over the last 12 months has actually outpaced the national job creation rate.
As Statistics Canada points out in its latest Labour Force Survey (March 11), Alberta’s employment has increased by 3.4 per cent since February of last year – well above the rate of 1.9 per cent nationally over the same time period.
As well, it’s not just the number of jobs, but the quality of jobs that are popping up. For quite some time, average earnings in Alberta have been higher than the national average. But the last few months of data on weekly earnings show that not only do Alberta employees take home bigger paycheques, the rate of pay increase is out-stripping most other places in the country. That implies that the jobs that are returning are good quality, high-paying positions. New positions in manufacturing have been particularly strong.
None of this is really too surprising given the rebound in Alberta’s economy since 2009. With crude oil prices having more than tripled since the low point of $US33 per barrel in early 2009, the provincial economy has clawed its way back.
In some parts of the province – particularly in Wood Buffalo and the East Central region around Cold Lake-Bonnyville-Lac La Biche – the big problem is once again labour shortages. Driven by activity in the oil sands and heavy oil, companies are having a hard time finding qualified workers. That’s starting to push wages higher.
So far, wide spread labour shortages are not yet being felt across the entire province or across all sectors. Many workers, particularly in Calgary and southern Alberta, are still finding it a challenge to find work.
That will change. This year will probably mark a return to a tight job market for employers. Of course that’s great news for workers and those soon-to-be graduates starting to look for positions. But it will also bring along the stresses to the provincial economy that were felt so severely back in 2005 to 07.
For example, Alberta will soon be experiencing a ramping up of interprovincial in-migration. Traditionally, the province has been the place to be for Canadians looking for work, but in 2009 – for the first time in 15 years – Alberta was a net loser of migrants inter-provincially. That returned to a modestly positive net gain in 2010, but the inflow will gain momentum in 2011.
With that come issues such as housing shortages, particularly in rental accommodations. The City of Calgary has recently opted against a bylaw allowing for more secondary suites (at least for now), which could make the job of finding an apartment or basement suite a bit more challenging later this year.
More foreign workers
Other challenges facing the province will be the resumption of bringing in temporary foreign workers. This is an attractive solution for many businesses needing skilled workers, and certainly plenty of international workers see Alberta as an attractive place to live and work. But this, too, brings challenges, especially around foreign language barriers and finding appropriate housing options for the migrants.
These worries, however, are still a few months down the road.
As present, Alberta’s job market is pretty close to that sweet spot that economists would call “full employment.” There is no absolute level of unemployment that is considered to be the magic number but, typically, a job market with 5.0 to 5.5 per cent unemployment is considered to be balanced – workers have a decent chance of finding a good job, and employers have some resumes from which to choose.
Alberta’s job market is back! And at least until labour shortages start to strangle the economy once again, the province is in a very favourable position!