Alberta’s labor market retreads familiar ground
Contractors are 'already finding it difficult to find people,' observer says
Canada’s population continues to follow the resources. New census data released by Statistics Canada shows job seekers have flocked to those regions particularly rich in oil.
Alberta led the provinces in population growth between 2006 and 2011 at 10.8 per cent, or nearly twice the national average of 5.9 per cent.
Saskatchewan’s population rebounded after posting negative growth between 1996 and 2001 to exceed the national average at 6.7 per cent over the last five years. The province, home to the Canadian portion of the Bakken play, saw an influx of more than 65,000 people – including some 28,000 new immigrants – since 2006, according to Statscan. British Columbia, ground zero for Canada’s budding shale and liquefied natural gas business, grew by seven per cent.
Even Newfoundland and Labrador posted gains. For the first time since the mid-1980s, the province’s population grew by 1.8 per cent, slowing an outbound flow of skilled labor that has helped fuel growth in the oil sands.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Human Resources, Labour and Employment estimates that up to 47 per cent of a mobile workforce of between 19,400 and 23,500 people found work in Alberta between 2009 and 2010, for instance.
Yet mining projects and continued offshore development mean the Rock is increasingly as desperate as Alberta is for skilled workers. “They can’t find enough people either,” says Carmen Velasquez, associate director, global oil with consultancy IHS-CERA.
She calculates that Alberta’s labor market is fast approaching territory not seen since oil hit US$147 a barrel, when competition for skilled hands led to cost blowouts on multibillion-dollar oil sands projects. Contractors “are already finding it difficult to find people,” she says.
The shortfall is accentuated because oil sands projects aren’t built in isolation. “For every oil sands project you build, you also need pipelines, both bitumen out, diluent in, and there are also a lot of power generation requirements,” Velasquez says. “These are all competing for the same craft labor.”