Jobs: Worker Shortage Crisis in Alberta

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by Thema O’Connor

Thelma O’ Connor, B.A., CERC Relocation Specialist, immigrated to Canada in 1995 and runs Canada Wise, a relocation, orientation and settlement service for newcomers to Canada. Contact Thelma on Tel: (403) 226-4999,; web site:

Published March 2006 – It’s hard to pick up a newspaper in Alberta these days and not see a headline that reads, ‘labour shortage’, ‘lack of workers’, ‘skilled worker shortage’.

Alberta is booming. With the province’s unemployment rate at 3.6% and Calgary’s at an all-time low of just 3.1% (July 05), there are currently more job opportunities than there are people to fill them!

The figures clearly support the anecdotal evidence of the labour crisis in Alberta.

  • A survey in August by Merit Contractors Association found that 66% of the 581 firms it surveyed were having trouble filling positions, up from 54% in January.
  • In the last Canadian Federation of Independent Business member survey, more that 60% of the organization’s membership cited worker shortages as an issue, the highest level ever, and the highest of any province in Canada.
  • In 2004, the Canada West Foundation reported critical labour shortages affect 65 industries in Alberta and shortages will likely continue to increase.
  • According to the Alberta Regional Occupation Outlook; 2005 – 2010 report by Alberta Human Resources and Development, employment in the province grew by more than 470,200 jobs over the past ten years.
  • The Alberta government is predicting a shortfall of 100,000 workers over the next decade – a situation that threatens the $107 billion in expected capital projects.

The shortage of skilled labour is one of the most pressing issues in Alberta today and is already having serious implications for both business and the economy.

The oil and gas industry is suffering a critical shortage of workers which in turn is causing production delays and postponement or abandonment of multi-million dollar projects. Skilled workers such as welders, electricians, engineers, geologists and onshore oil workers (of all varieties) are in highest demand. However, the lack of high level English language skills seems to be a key stumbling block to employing more immigrants in this area.

Opportunities are not limited to the oil and gas industry. Across Calgary, the construction boom, valued at over $2 billion in the first seven months of 2005, has coincided with a major shortage of tradespeople. For skilled tradespeople such as painters, framers, drywallers, and plumbers, the opportunities seem almost endless and the wages are at record levels.The trucking industry in Alberta (and across Canada) has been grappling with a shortage of long-distance truck drivers and truck mechanics for more than a decade.

Employers are also having difficulty filling positions in heath care, information and communications technology, agriculture, food processing and tourism/hospitality. In such a competitive job market, Alberta companies are now being forced to explore all options, including recruiting workers on a temporary basis from overseas.

More than one hundred leading western Canadian employers at a recent ‘Hiring Foreign Workers’ seminar in Calgary expressed their desire to increase their staffing levels, in some instances by between 100 – 300 employees under both the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and the Provincial Nominee Program.

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program permits the admission of foreign workers to Canada (and Alberta) in order to temporarily meet an employer’s human resource needs under certain conditions.

The Alberta Provincial Nominee Program [PNP] is an employer-driven immigration program operated by the Government of Alberta, in conjunction with Citizenship and Immigration Canada [CIC]. Employers unable to fill skilled positions with Canadian residents may present their business case to the Alberta Provincial Nominee Program and apply for approval to recruit a specified number of foreign candidates to fill these positions. Employers may also apply to PNP to nominate individuals already working in Alberta, under a Temporary Foreign Worker Authorization.To compete for employees in this tight labour market, companies are offering signing bonuses, a more flexible work week, wellness accounts and even health club memberships. Some employees are receiving bonuses if they refer a prospective worker for a posting and the person is hired.

With no end in sight to the present worker shortage, trucking firms are looking for drivers in Eastern Europe, oil companies are searching for workers in Venezuela and construction companies are hiring workers from as far a field as El Salvador.

In the past several years both the Alberta government and other agencies and employers throughout the province have been working together to provide solutions to address the labour shortage crisis. Most recently a new Alberta policy to attract and retain immigrants should help to address some of the skill shortages and support the successful transition of immigrants into Alberta’s economic, social and cultural life.

Alberta aims to attract at least 24,000 immigrants each year, up from the nearly 16,500 immigrants who moved to the province in 2004. If you are a prospective newcomer to Alberta there are clearly many genuine job opportunities here for you, providing you have the necessary experience, qualifications and English language abilities required in the above mention labour shortage areas.

Don’t miss an opportunity to be part of the ‘Alberta Advantage’, to share in the province’s growth and success. Plan or get help with planning and implementing a solid job search strategy which includes improving your English language skills and preparing a high quality resume and cover letter that meets Canadian employer standards.

Take advantage of this hot labour market and start planning your move to Alberta today!

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