Labor Market Up, Labor Supply Down

The change is increasingly noticeable.  Newspapers, signs, employee search agencies and all other recruitment activities are all increasingly active.  For Hire, Job Opportunity, Wanted, Employment Opportunities, Required Immediately, Dynamic and Challenging positions available, Now Hiring, Full-time Staff needed. 
    Many businesses haven’t realized or accepted the fact that the competition for staff in all industry sectors is on the rise. Or if they have, they aren’t sure what to do about it.  As the future unfolds, the sustainability of their business will be tied to their ability to access and retain the people with the skills they need. 
    Ms. Kristen Cumming, Instructor with the University of Alberta and consultant with Cantos Performance Management attended the Wetaskiwin Lunch & Learn session on January 30, 2014. Cumming’s presentation, The Future Work Force in Alberta, described to the approximately 50 participants how serious the labor shortage is. “Alberta’s labour market (need for employees) is predicted to grow at an annual rate of 2.4%, while its labour supply (employees available) grows at an annual rate of 1.9%.  The bottom line is that by 2021, Alberta predicts a cumulative shortage of approximately 114 000 workers.”
    There continues to be an increasing cause for concern. Labor shortages that were experienced in the mid-2000’s were cyclical in nature, meaning the demand for employees was directly related to rapid industrial growth.  Today, the rapid industrial growth, especially in Alberta, has created another labor shortage that has become more complex due to demographic shifts. Cummings explained that because the size of families declined 20, 30, 40 years ago, there aren’t as many people entering the workforce today. This is further compounded by the huge number of baby boomers who are reaching retirement age and leaving the workforce creating a demographic shift that is deeper and longer-lasting. 
    In a nutshell, if Company A finds itself losing employees, whether it be through attrition (retirement) or to other companies, there is a limit to how much adjustment can be made by downsizing the business, demanding more production from existing employees or attracting employees from other provinces. At the same time Alberta is experiencing an improved economy fueling an increased demand for products and services and the growing need for more employees to satisfy that need.  
Cumming suggests two under-tapped sources of labor
    Cumming suggested a potential solution to the labor shortage is to engage underutilized segments of the population such as aboriginals and immigrants.  She shared stats illustrating how this untapped aboriginal labor source is available to employers now, and in the future. “The increase of the aboriginal population and potential labour supply between 2006 and 2011 was 20.1% compared to an increase of 5.2% non-aboriginal.  Plus the aboriginal population is comparatively younger. Looking into the future, aboriginal youth between the ages of 15 to 24 is 28% compared to non-aboriginal at 16.5%. Children 14 years of age and under make up 28 % of the aboriginal population while non-aboriginal children only account for 16.5%.  There will be a smaller percentage of aboriginal seniors retiring. They make up 6% of the population while only 14.2 % of the non-aboriginal population is over 65.” She pointed out that considering the close proximity to Maskwacis Cree Nation, Wetaskiwin has a unique opportunity to help build a future skilled workforce. 
    “Alberta’s share of new immigrants increased from 6.5% (2001) to 12.4% (2011)”, were the stats identifying the second source of employees for consideration.  “Immigrants account for 20% of the working age population in Alberta. They have the highest rate of participation or the lowest rate of unemployment in Alberta compared to other provinces.” Although Cummings suggested stats show “immigrants have a higher percentage working full time than other Albertans”, she was quick to qualify her statement by explaining that a majority were not employed full-time in one position that offered the same advantages enjoyed by Canadians.
    Immigrants will play an important role filling the labor shortage hole. But employers hiring foreign workers will have additional responsibilities. The employer’s ability to attract and retain foreign workers is directly related to the degree to which they are integrated into the workplace and the community.  Now is the time to plan ahead by answering questions such as: where will they live? How will they access health care? Banking, insurance? Additional language and skills training? Are the present company employees prepared to accept immigrants?    
    Although recent immigrants are often highly educated, they are not enjoying the same lifestyle as Canadian born workers.  Many immigrants are underemployed (teachers in the fast food industry), in part-time, in part-year, low paying jobs. As Cummings stated, although often well qualified, they have a difficult time getting meaningful employment and management positions. 
    Instead the reality they find is one of disappointment. A poll conducted by Environics Research Group in July 4, 2011 found that 49% of newcomers who have been in Canada less than a year feel they are underemployed. Additionally, 12% felt stuck in a job that would not eventually lead to their desired occupation. Only 42% of those polled had researched labour market conditions before coming to Canada, while just 24% had researched whether they would need to be recertified in order to continue working in their field. 
    In her closing remarks, Cummings summed her presentation by saying, “Employers must find ways to match supply with demand in such a way that employment opportunities are provided and communities are strengthened economically and socially. This includes providing employability supports, creating proposals for training and building industry partnerships. “
    Now is the time to prepare a strategy to ensure Alberta has the skilled labour force it requires in the future.  Now is the time to establish a clear understanding with both employers and workers to clearly know what is expected of them. Only then, will the economic growth of Alberta not be restricted by a labor shortage. 
    The Lunch & Learn workshop was hosted by JEDI in partnership with Wetaskiwin and District Chamber of Commerce, Wetaskiwin Composite High School and Alberta Works. To be added to the distribution list announcing future workshops email espagrud@jedialberta.com 

 

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