Province hits redial from Canmore on call for out-of-province workers
Alberta is doubling down on its efforts to address labour shortages in the province, choosing a community with abundant job opportunities but limited housing options as the location to make its call out to eastern Canada.
On Monday (March 13), the province launched the second phase of its Alberta is Calling campaign with a press conference at the Canmore Nordic Centre. The campaign aims to attract skilled workers from 14 cities, including Hamilton, London, Halifax and Charlottetown to fill job vacancies in healthcare, trades, engineering, technology, accounting, food service and hospitality.
According to the province’s minister of jobs and economy, Brian Jean, Alberta has 100,000 job vacancies in those sectors.
“It’s always good news to campaign outside our region, outside our province for workers to come to Banff and Canmore,” said Michel Dufresne, director of the Job Resource Centre in Banff and Canmore. “What’s good especially is [minister Brian Jean] sure mentioned the mountains a lot and they did this press conference from the Canmore Nordic Centre.
“The mountains are certainly a big draw and hopefully that means that we start getting more inquiries and more interest from people wanting to come here to fill jobs.”
The Job Resource Centre reported labour shortages of around 30 per cent in Banff and Canmore last summer – equating to about 2,000 vacant jobs – a number the region has not fully recovered from since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic when much of its international and out-of-province workforce left.
Prior to the pandemic, almost half the workforce in hotels, retail stores, restaurants, sightseeing companies, and ski resorts in Banff and Canmore consisted of foreign workers.
“This place relies on people from out of province and other countries,” said Dufresne. “Losing that percentage of our workforce was really difficult and we haven’t been able to bounce back completely yet.”
Dufresne said he hopes the $1.8 million that will be spent on billboards, radio ads and other marketing tactics will help bring some of those people back to the Bow Valley and then some, but there are many barriers facing the workforce the region needs.
Not the least of which is a housing crisis in Canmore, which goes hand-in-hand with the town having the highest cost of living of any municipality in Alberta at a living wage of $32.75 an hour, according to a December 2022 Alberta Living Wage Network report.
“We have an excellent quality of life and an affordable lifestyle in every corner of this great and amazing province,” said the minister of jobs and economy, Brian Jean, in his announcement of the renewed campaign Monday.
Jean added that along with having no sales tax and the highest wages in the country, it is the “low costs of living” and “very affordable housing,” that make Alberta an appealing place to live and work.
The living wage in Hamilton, Ont., meanwhile, is about $19.05, according to Ontario’s living wage network. In Saint John, N.B. – another city targeted by the campaign – the benchmark housing price averaged $268,400 in January.
In Canmore, where housing supply has failed to meet demand, the average single-family detached home was assessed around $1.6 million in 2022. According to the Job Resource Centre’s 2022 fall market review, the average rental rate for a one-bedroom in Canmore is $1,824, a two-bedroom is $2,733, and a three-bedroom is $3,754.
“People want to work here, and we’ve seen people who come out, get a job offer and then they do their research a bit,” said Dufresne. “They start looking for a place to live, to rent or they do the math … and if their employer isn’t offering them staff accommodation, well, then they often back out and decide it’s just not feasible.”
The bulk of the labour market the towns need to fill, he added, are entry-level positions in the service and hospitality industry, such as in hotels and restaurants.
Many of these businesses offer staff accommodations, which is becoming an increasingly common response in the Bow Valley to the lack of housing to attract and retain employees.
According to the Job Resource Centre’s spring labour market review, from August 2022 to January 2023, 37 per cent of jobs posted were advertised with staff housing, similar to the same period a year earlier. In Banff, 50 per cent of jobs advertised came with staff accommodations, while in Canmore that figure was 25 per cent – up five per cent from the year before.
Dufresne said the latest review by the resource centre indicates a rebound may be happening in the labour pool, but it will be dependent on how many people follow through with commitments to employers in the spring.
Although there is no concrete data to support the impact of the first phase of the Alberta is Calling campaign on the Bow Valley last summer, when it targeted Toronto and Vancouver, the province saw its highest quarterly growth rate since 1980 during the July-to-September period.
About 19,000 people from other parts of Canada moved here, including 8,000 from Ontario.
Canmore Mayor Sean Krausert said he was pleased to see the Bow Valley area being promoted in this phase and hopes for the same success as last year.
“In general, I’m very supportive of the province’s campaign to attract new workers,” he said. “To have the announcement held in Canmore gives certain spotlight to the fact that Canmore, like many cities and towns across Alberta, is finding it increasingly difficult to attract and retain workers.”
Krausert said housing and affordability have long been issues in the municipality, but the Town and businesses will continue to face those challenges head on with the goal of creating a community where all people who wish to live and work here are able.
“We certainly welcome new workers to town in order to enjoy all that we have to offer and to work in one of the most beautiful places in the world,” he said.
Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Rocky Mountain Outlook