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Moving to Alberta? Job hunting? This is what you should know about the changing labour market

If you’re thinking about moving to Alberta, or if you’re already here and you’re looking for a job, the Business Council of Alberta wants to help you better understand the changing labour market — including who’s hiring.

Using publicly available job postings from 2018 to 2023, the council’s new report explores which occupations are currently seeing the highest need for workers, and what skills employers are looking for nowadays.

Alicia Planincic, an economist and manager of policy at the Business Council of Alberta, said that’s important information because Alberta’s labour market looks a lot different now than it did five or 10 years ago.

“It used to be the case that Alberta’s labour market really moved in lockstep with oil and gas, where we would see high oil prices and the industry would really ramp up hiring and all the related industries would see a boost because of that,” said Planincic.

That’s changed, she said. Instead, rising population could be in the driver’s seat.

Record numbers of people — internationally and interprovincially — have been moving to Alberta lately.

To keep the trend going, the province even announced it’s offering a $5,000 “Alberta is Calling” attraction bonus for people who work in eligible occupations.

“Because of this population growth and so many new Albertans in the province, there’s more need for things like housing and teachers.”

So what does that mean for prospective Albertans, or Albertans struggling to find a job right now? Let’s break it down.

Demand in health care, trades

First, let’s go over which occupations aren’t looking to fill jobs in Alberta at the moment.

According to the report, all types of engineering saw a 60 per cent decrease in job postings, compared to five years prior. That means it could be difficult to find a job in that field in Alberta right now.

It also may not be the best time to find a job as a home childcare provider. Instead, it could be easier to land a job in childcare centres.

On the other side of things, there are two sectors that have seen the biggest increases in job postings: health care and the trades.

Job postings in both of those occupations have increased at rates that outpace population growth each year — 16 per cent and 13 per cent respectively, said the report.

Medical tools are pictured in an exam room at a health clinic.
Health care is among the top two sectors with the most need for workers, said the report. Over the years, there have been ongoing calls for governments to better address these worker shortages. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

“These are just astounding numbers,” said Planincic.

While the need for health care workers is being seen across the country, she said that isn’t the case for the trades.

“We’ve seen even more growth [in trades] than anywhere else in Canada, which is pretty incredible.”

Postings for teachers and education-related jobs, including educational assistants, are also surging, said the report.

Planincic said it’s important to note that labour markets differ significantly between municipalities, so the need is not the same across the province.

The trades’ branding issue

Bill Black, CEO of the Calgary Construction Association, said the numbers for the trades check out with what he’s been seeing in the industry over the last couple of years — both in Calgary and across Alberta, though bigger cities feel the need more intensely.

He said the construction industry in particular was in rough shape in the years before the pandemic. Many workers left the province during the downturn to find work in other provinces, but they didn’t return in the same numbers.

However, the market started to warm up when the pandemic hit — until it eventually exploded to where it is now.

“There isn’t a construction individual I know of in Alberta right now that is not worried about their future workforce. If they’re not feeling it right now, they expect within the next five years they will because we haven’t even seen the retirement cycle kick in yet,” said Black.

Two workers stand in front of a two-storey duplex under construction in the southwest community of Shaganappi.
Record numbers of people are moving to Alberta, and that means the province needs more infrastructure — from housing, to schools, to grocery stores — to accommodate the growing population. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

“We believe right now that about one in four — about 25 per cent — of job vacancies in the Calgary business region are either skilled trades or related white collar support roles in construction. [That’s] about 7,500 job vacancies out of about 30,000.”

A recent multi-year labour market outlook by the City of Calgary forecasted that construction is among the four main industries that could experience labour shortages for the next decade in the city.

Black said it’s ultimately a branding issue.

“That’s what we’re really experiencing, is the long-term result of 30 to 40 years of North America believing in the idea that to be anybody you need an academic degree and a job in the trades or construction is a second-rate career,” he said.

“Ultimately, that stigma needs to be removed.”

He said realistically, there are many career options within the trades and many opportunities for advancement. He said there’s also added stability, especially now that more infrastructure is needed to accommodate population growth.

‘Middle’ skills, tech skills needed

Back at the Business Council of Alberta, Planincic said as the labour market shifts, so does the need for skills.

Nowadays, Alberta’s job market requires more “middle skills.”

“In other words, employers aren’t necessarily looking for somebody fresh out of high school, but they’re also not necessarily looking for somebody with a four-year degree or decades of experience in an industry,” she said.

Instead, employers are “looking for folks with an apprenticeship training or a couple of years of college.”

She said tech skills — particularly business intelligence and data analysis skills — are also in high demand.

Moving forward, Planincic said she’ll be keeping an eye on how things change as the market begins to cool.

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