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Shift in Alberta’s Labour Market Leaves Workers Switching Careers

Labour shortage in certain industries grew as workers migrated to other sectors. Particularly impacted is Alberta’s labour market that led workers switching careers.

As domestic and international travel was halted, the covid-19 pandemic left a lasting effect on Calgary’s tourism and hospitality industry. 

As a result of the low occupancy, hotels were operating with very little staff, according to Sol Zia, executive director of the Calgary Hotel Association. But Zia added that most staff did not return when travel returned and lay off ended. 

The association collaborated closely with the national organization Tourism HR Canada to determine where the employees went. According to Zia’s investigation, about a third of the staff members who left the sector sought employment in long-term care and health care support.

Another third of that employees obtained employment in financial services and technology after making a career transition. It is uncertain why the remaining last third did not return, Zia explained. 

The hospitality sector is now having trouble filling positions. According to Zia, about 700 vacant positions have remained unfilled since late spring.

Although it is common for workers to move between sectors in Canada, the pandemic intensified this practice. For example, in Alberta, workers migrated from the hospitality sector to more lucrative fields like tech and retail. It resulted in labour shortages in the industries that workers left behind. 

The majority of Alberta’s hospitality sector has a labour shortage

According to Ernie Tsu, president of the Alberta Hospitality Association, almost 80% of Alberta’s hospitality sector is experiencing a labour shortfall.

Tsu says that of the entire province, Fort McMurray and the Bow Valley region are currently in the greatest demand of workers.

Due to covid-19 restrictions, restaurants had to constantly open and close, so they could not provide staff with consistent schedules. Many left as a result. 

We saw several of our employees—our culinary chefs leave our sector for another that would offer far more stability, said Tsu.

Manufacturing, business, and agriculture sectors also see labour shortages

According to Alberta Central’s chief economist, Charles St-Arnaud, many people left their previous professions during the pandemic in quest of more stable positions with higher benefits.

He claims that the hospitality sector was most likely the hardest impacted by those workers moving to other fields out of all industries. Nonetheless, he observes a similar situation in other sectors. 

Agriculture is another sector that saw a decline in workers. However, according to St-Arnaud, this is partly due to the sector’s employment not performing well over the previous two and a half years.

Further, he explained that the number of the labour force has declined in the area, and employment has remained weaker than before the pandemic. 

The same is true for the manufacturing sector, where employment is still below levels before the pandemic.

While St-Arnaud also added that some workers might be experiencing permanent job loss instead of simply moving on to other industries.

According to him, the business, construction, and other services industries have also experienced a decline in the labour force.

Construction, transportation and warehousing, as well as accommodation and food services, are the key industries experiencing a labour shortage, according to a statement from the Alberta government’s office of the minister of labour and immigration.

Jobs in retail, science, and technology are growing

St-Arnaud mentions that the wholesale and retail trade sectors have seen the most job growth during the past few years.

Since the pandemic’s start, employment in professional, scientific, and technological fields—a broad category that includes jobs such as lawyers, engineers, lab technicians, and more—has increased steadily.

St-Arnaud explains that companies offering better work conditions, such as better pay, regular hours and benefits, attract workers from other industries. Therefore, they need to attract workers and provide better conditions. 

But it will take longer for industries with minimal profit margin, particularly if input costs rise, he said. He added that it might be challenging in the food industry to offer better conditions. 

Another factor is the lack of immigration

According to St-Arnaud, a lack of immigration to Canada due to the pandemic is a significant factor in why many industries are experiencing a labour shortage.

Canada lost 300,000 prospective foreign employees who would have entered the labour force because of the pandemic’s minimal immigration.

Even though Alberta saw positive net interprovincial migration over the previous quarter, it is insufficient to make up for the residents who left the province in the first few weeks of the pandemic.

Alberta lost employees to other provinces. That indirectly contributed to the decline in the number of available workers, he said. 

According to St-Arnaud, improving sectoral balance involves long-term plans and is not a simple task. More migration will benefit in some respects by expanding the available labour pool.

Zia says recovering from this shortage requires government support. It includes prospective changes to the temporary foreign worker program regulations and the creation of new government programs to attract workers. 

The Alberta at Work initiative is only one of the many measures the provincial government of Alberta says it has taken to reduce present and future labour shortages.

Additionally, the Alis website, which offers resources and information for education and career development, has been working to support Albertans in achieving professional success.

With 4.6 million views in the previous 12 months, traffic to the website has steadily increased since the pandemic’s start. Alis last experienced this level of traffic in 2013, when it received 4.8 million visitors.

Presented by CTC News