Around 100,000 jobs open in Alberta — but many companies can't find those with specific skills

Construction takes place in downtown Calgary in this file photo. An ongoing labour shortage is particularly impacting some highly technical jobs, such as heavy-duty mechanics, crane operators, and millwrights. (Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Construction takes place in downtown Calgary in this file photo. An ongoing labour shortage is particularly impacting some highly technical jobs, such as heavy-duty mechanics, crane operators, and millwrights. (Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Alberta's worker shortage has shown some signs of levelling off in recent months, but similar to the rest of the country, industries that rely heavily on skilled workers report feeling constrained as their operations continue to struggle.

The worker shortage continues even as employment in Alberta rose by 25,000 in December, according to the latest figures from Statistics Canada. In that time, the province's unemployment rate remained at 5.8 per cent. 

As of last quarter, there were around 100,000 job vacancies in Alberta, StatsCan said.

Fergus Dunphy is chief financial officer for two Canadian crane companies, including the Calgary-based Morwest Crane and Services.

Crane operation pays well, Dunphy said, but is a highly demanding job — workers typically make their way to the top of a crane by 5 or 6 a.m., and are sometimes up in the sky for up to 10 hours, often working six or seven days a week.

He said he's noticed a generational shift lately.

"We're seeing a large portion of the baby boomers heading to retirement right now. Seems like that generation was far more willing to work more labour-intensive industries," he said.

According to a November report from the Business Council of Alberta, more than 60 per cent of respondents in the province said they were having difficulty filling positions they needed to meet demand.

Scott Crockatt, vice-president of communications with the organization, said while there is a very robust labour market in Alberta right now, the province is verging on a serious shortage of labour.

"That's widespread across a number of industries, but there are some areas where that's particularly acute, like energy, manufacturing and construction," he said, adding the shortage is having a particular impact on highly technical jobs like heavy-duty mechanics, millwrights and crane operators.

Submitted by Business Council of Alberta
Submitted by Business Council of Alberta

Jason Gillespie, the president of Pathfinder Recruitment Group, a construction and architecture-specific staffing firm, said while he wouldn't say companies are panicking right now, they are implementing changes based on the demands of recruits, such as implementing hybrid workplaces.

"They're also increasing their salaries to retain people and to attract people," he said. "I've seen upwards of 30 per cent of what that role would normally take. So, they are getting a little desperate."

Nearly $13 billion was lost across Canada in 2022 in the manufacturing sector due to the labour shortage, according to an annual labour survey from the industry group Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME), which surveyed 563 manufacturers across the country.

CME has attributed the shortage to a lack of interest in manufacturing jobs from younger Canadians and an exodus of aging baby boomers.

The federal government has said that it plans to welcome 500,000 immigrants per year by 2025 to mitigate labour shortages across the country.

Major new projects in Alberta

Alberta has made a number of high-profile announcements in such sectors over the past year, each of which will require a high number of specialized workers.

De Havilland Aircraft of Canada announced plans to build an airplane manufacturing plant east of Calgary in September, which then-premier Jason Kenney said would employ 1,500 workers when completed. That project is currently in the review and approval process, though the company is hiring for its existing operations in Calgary.

The provincial government points to its Alberta at Work initiative, which supports skills training programs such as the Canada-Alberta Job Grant and Training for Work programs, as part of a route forward.

"These actions are paying off. Alberta is seeing record levels of international migration paired with the nation-leading interprovincial migration," wrote Chloe Carr, the press secretary for the Alberta Ministry of Jobs, Economy and Northern Development, in a statement.

Crockatt said while companies like De Havilland decided to invest in Alberta on purpose — considering the public policy, investment and labour environment — it's important that the province ensures companies that have made big commitments to the province are met with labour forces to support them.

"There are tens of billions of dollars in projects being actively considered in Alberta right now," he said. "All of these are going to require a significant labour force, and a significant labour force in the categories we're talking about, such as highly skilled trades, in order to be able to execute."

He cited WestJet's recent announcement that it would make Calgary its global hub as an example of an approach that could be utilized moving forward.

As a part of that announcement, the provincial government committed around $73 million over a number of years toward the aviation and tourism industries in Alberta, part of which will be allocated to Mount Royal University's aviation program to train pilots and expand their hanger.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press
Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

And though various training programs are available for those seeking to upgrade their current positions, it's not always that simple for people to step away from work to receive full-time training while still covering their bills.

In such scenarios, the non-profit Momentum Calgary points to the opportunity for work-integrated training, where people can get trained in a specific occupation while receiving support financially while they do so.

"That's how we can meet our labour market shortage in the future," said Jeff Loomis, executive director of Momentum. "We can ensure that people who are already living for, or who are struggling for jobs, have that opportunity to get good career-track jobs."