December 1, 2008
by Tracy Clayson
In 2007, Alberta’s unemployment rate was a minuscule 3.5 per cent. It’s currently at 3.8%, but that’s still the lowest rate in any province or territory. Yes, the employment picture appears to be rosy. There’s clearly an economic boom going on. Yet despite this prosperity, employers face some daunting challenges, especially those hiring for supply-chain positions outside the oil industry.
Indeed, Alberta’s boom over the last 10 years has made it very difficult for employers to find enough skilled workers. In the western provinces, unemployment rates are no higher than 4.4%; by contrast, Ontario is at 6.4%, Quebec is at 7.2% and the Atlantic provinces range from 7.2% to 13 per cent.
However, employers have come up with creative techniques in their attempts to ease the labour shortage. They’re targeting women, older workers and Aboriginal people, while accelerating the process of settling willing immigrant workers in Alberta.
A labour market study of the province’s migrant/immigrant worker population shows almost 60% comes from other provinces and nearly 80% of the newest workers are immigrants. These numbers demonstrate that employers are making every effort to attract talent from local, national and foreign pools, but such workers tend to be costly. Alberta has the lowest number of minimum wage-employed workers in the country at 1.3%, and the average wage has steadily risen over the past decade from $14 to more than $22 per hour.
High-paying jobs in the oil sands attract the most attention. With the salaries oil companies offer, they shouldn’t have to spin recruiting campaigns to attract workers. Going by the numbers alone, a supply-chain career just can’t compete. Yet there are factors that keep workers away from the oil sands.
Supply-chain recruitment should focus on the non-financial advantages of career opportunities outside the energy sector. For instance, the housing market for oil workers is very tight and available housing is increasingly expensive. The alternative is to reside at remote locations such as where oil sands projects and other mining and drilling operations are located. This is an unattractive option for many people. The challenging physical and mental demands, the lack of familiarity with the region and its people, and simple homesickness make it a tough slog over the long term.
A more appealing work situation often trumps a high salary, especially for those with young families who crave flexible work schedules and value time at home.