Alberta job-seekers could continue to face uphill battle, experts warn

·3 min read

Finding work continues to be a struggle for thousands of Albertans and some experts fear lower-than-normal employment levels could persist as the second wave of the pandemic rages, leading to more bankruptcies and mortgage delinquencies.

Though Statistics Canada data shows Alberta added 23,000 jobs last month, employment levels are still below pre-pandemic levels.

"There are still a lot of people struggling," said Aled ab Iorwerth, deputy chief economist for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Data from the CMHC this fall revealed Edmonton and Calgary led the country with mortgage deferral rates of 11 and nine per cent.

With deferral periods ending, and bankruptcies increasing, some fear a jump in the mortgage delinquency rate could be coming.

"It's something to be concerned about and something we are keeping an eye on," the economist said.

Jackie Rafter, who runs the Calgary-based company Higher Landing, has been training out-of-work professionals in Alberta since 2015.

Many of her clients have worked in oil and gas, but have been unable to find jobs in the industry.

The pandemic has exacerbated their problems and affected their mental health, she said.

People have lost their homes

"These are the people who lost their homes, they've lost their marriages, they've exhausted their RRSPs and now their health is starting to collapse," Rafter said.

With so much uncertainty in the job market, Rafter said job-seekers must do more than rely on their previous skills and experience.

She advises clients to understand their value but be willing to change their approach and accept opportunities in other fields.

Edmonton job seeker Juan Marin, 25, has embraced that advice.

"My initial plan is to find a job in the engineering field, but I am open to different options," said Marin, a graduate of the University of Los Andes in Colombia and the University of Alberta.

Marin enrolled in one of Higher Landing's programs this summer after experiencing a tougher-than-expected job hunt.

Marin said he realized he needed to change his tactics, so he started reaching out to managers and potential employers directly instead of focusing on online applications.

The networking seems to have paid off, leading to more interviews, but he is still looking for work.

Alberta's outlook grim

Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews spoke of "signs of some economic recovery" ahead of a fiscal update on the province's finances last week.

Others say there may be signs of hope, but Alberta's economic outlook appears grim.

"It's going to be a slow, slow recovery," said Mike Holden, chief economist at the Business Council of Alberta.

Nearly half of Alberta chief executives surveyed by the council said they expect employment levels to drop in the coming year.

Ab lorwerth said the more COVID-19 spreads, the more likely there will be significant economic disruption.

"We're really in the hands of the virus at the moment, and that's why we're trying to remain prudent and cautious," he said.