What Alberta job losses in January mean for Edmonton

Alberta lost nearly 19,000 jobs in January while Canada added 34,500 overall, according to a report released by Statistics Canada on Friday. 

Those numbers are reflected in trends being observed in the province's capital city. Felicia Mutheardy, City of Edmonton's senior economist, says the city's full-time employment has been weakening since September last year. 

She said the city receives data that's based on a three-month moving average and looks at seasonally adjusted figures. Based on those readings, the Edmonton census metropolitan area lost 1,800 positions from December last year to January this year. 

"My initial reaction is it is concerning," Mutheardy said, adding that these indicators mean the city's labour market is showing signs of stress.

However, the city is projecting a 1.4 per cent growth in the city's growth domestic product this year, as well as one per cent growth in employment. 

"It's not exactly brilliant but at the same time it's an improvement over 2019," Mutheardy said.

She said the lost full-time employment lies mostly in public administration, health care and primary sectors like fishing, mining, oil and gas.

'Take it with a grain of salt'

The numbers released by Statistics Canada vary monthly and have a large margin of error, according to Alberta School of Business associate professor Andrew Leach.

"It's a number that if you ran the same survey a hundred times, you'd get numbers that are plus or minus 20,000 off that number," he said.

"So we need to take those individual numbers with a grain of salt." 

Leach says the focus should be on the longer-term trends. 

"A lot of the impact on the job side has been and continues to be felt by men, and young men in particular, and those should be the big concerns that come out of those numbers."

From 20 to 200 resumes 

Chatelle Holoiday, branch manager at Edmonton-based temporary staffing firm Prime Staffing, says the type of candidates she sees has changed. 

"Now I'm having journeymen and tradesmen coming through the door and willing to work for minimum wage because their [employment insurance] has run out and there's no opportunities in the trades for them," said Holoiday.   

"The guys that are used to making $150,000 a year and working shift rotations away from their families ... right now they're willing to do anything just put money in the bank," she said.

"Now the problem is, from a recruitment perspective, you've got 200 resumes to go through instead of 20." 

Trevor Wilson/CBC

Josh Deboer, northern operations leader for Manpower, another staffing agency in Edmonton, says he's been noticing the same trend for oil and gas workers with many years of experience. 

"Coming back out to the job market and depending on the position they were in, they might see a correction in the wages of the positions they held, where the rest of the market isn't necessarily reflecting their experience," he said. 

Deboer and Holoiday both say available jobs in Alberta are highly dependent on the season. 

"We see our growth in terms of numbers more seasonally aligned with oil and gas maintenance, so the number really wide varies based upon the time of the year," Deboer said.  

"We're certainly not at our peak right now and we're still ramping up to that," he said, adding that job seekers should remain hopeful as the Edmonton job market shifts.

Nathan Gross/CBC

NDP opposition leader Rachel Notley says the current UCP government has failed on their promise to create jobs for Albertans. 

"Albertans are being left behind, and worst of all they are giving up hope," she said at a press conference Friday. Notley said 22,000 Albertans have stopped looking for work and left the workplace since the province first implemented cuts to the corporate tax rate.

Jerrica Goodwin, press secretary for Alberta Treasury board and Finance said in an emailed statement the government is working to bring back "job-creating investment to Alberta." 

"Turning around the mess left by the previous government and harmful federal policies won't happen overnight," Goodwin said. "Everyone knows lack of pipeline access is one of the biggest challenges our province is facing."

She said that with recent developments on Trans Mountain, Enbridge, Line 3 and Keystone XL, the province is estimating a $2 billion investment in oil and gas, 4,200 new jobs created in oil and gas and another 2,300 in manufacturing.