Work, play and maybe stay in Alberta

Alberta. Canada’s most populated prairie province known for its ski resorts, snowboarding, freezing cold temperatures and oh-so-lucrative oil industry.

The province twice the size of Japan and covering nearly 7 per cent of Canada, is home to many: four million Albertans, international migrant workers, inter-provincial workers and the third-largest oil reserve on the planet.

With a massive crude oil reserve comes a sizeable workforce. The problem the province is facing is getting people to stay.

Statistics Canada tracked an approximate 62,000 to 67,500 inter-provincial workers starting in 2005 and found that one in four workers became residents through the next five years. But throughout the reference period nearly two-thirds of inter-provincial employees in Alberta were reporting T4 earnings from another province as well.

The province has no issues initially attracting workers. In 2011/2012 Alberta welcomed more than 80,000 people from across Canada totaling almost one third of all interprovincial migrants for the year. In comparison, Alberta received the same number of migrant workers as the two most populated provinces combined, Ontario and Quebec.

With Alberta containing 98 per cent of all Canada’s crude oil, the province is able to provide opportunities for more money in careers that typically net less pay throughout the country.

For example, a general labourer in Ontario earns just above the minimum wage line, while a general labourer in Alberta can make upwards of $20 an hour.

“There has been a little bit of room for everybody out there, as long as you are willing to go,” said Louise Stiles, career services outreach co-ordinator at Durham College.

“In terms of finding employment there has been a lot more opportunity out there certainly then what we’re seeing in other provinces.”

Durham College and UOIT are in constant communication with companies from out west headhunting future employees.

“Our HR students are finding work out there at some of the larger oil companies and for sure our trades: nuclear operators, power engineering technicians, our crane operators, construction guys, certainly a lot with the trades,” said Stiles.

Jana Forsyth, employment advisor at Durham College is in constant contact with employers interested in students. Every March Forsyth hosts an event called Tradesmart that welcomes employers from all over to the school. A few companies such as Imperial Oil and Kiewit work closer with the college and visit more frequently.

“They come on campus for two to three days every January to interview candidates they are interested in. They’re interviewing for full-time jobs, they’re also interviewing for summer positions and even longer, more developmental positions,” said Forsyth.

With handsomely paying career paths, beautiful landscapes and a lengthy winter sports season, why does Alberta have a hard time keeping interprovincial employees?

“Personal reasons, just family, but I also just missed all my friends back here. I mean, it was nice meeting everyone out west but I knew Toronto is where I wanted to live,” said Andrew Brown, a UOIT Business graduate who worked in Alberta for three years but recently moved home.

“A hundred per cent it was tough with family. I mean it’s always nice to come back for family but the time is so short you’re only coming back for a week or two,” said Brown.

Alberta has a high influx of workers coming from its neighbouring provinces as well.

Tanner Wiersma is an electrician originally from B.C. who initially found work in Alberta at labour camps but has since moved to Calgary.

“Guys on camps fly in and out all the time. In Calgary and other cities people stay more permanently it seems,” said Wiersma.

Reasons vary greatly for why other Canadians choose to leave Alberta but family tops the list.

“People complain about extreme cold weather and lack of social activities. I personally love Alberta as it has given me a lot,” said Aman Singh, UOIT Mechanical Engineering graduate who moved to Alberta in 2013.

Alberta has been able to provide career opportunities for post-secondary graduates who were not able to find work back home.

“I never wanted to leave Ontario and move to Alberta, but I was limiting my growth by not looking for opportunities outside the Greater Toronto Area. I have seen students from Toronto/Vancouver who come to Alberta with a five-year plan but never go back. I have also talked to people from other sectors (like automotive manufacturing) move to Alberta’s oil and gas industry,” he said.

It is difficult for StatsCan to track accurately the number of employees moving through Alberta’s revolving door workforce, because it is just that – a revolving door. One thing is certain, Alberta’s population is on the rise with the province reaching the four million mark in 2013. There were nearly 120,000 new Albertans in 2012/2013 with just under 60,000 residents leaving the province.

While the booming oil industry in Alberta looks lovely on paper right now, there are already signs of slowdowns in this sector.

What will happen to Alberta then?