Survey: Disconnect between SW Alberta jobs and job seekers

A recently released 12-month survey found expectation differences between employers and job seekers as the region attempts to fill 8,400 jobs over the next 5 years.

Last week, the Southwest Alberta Regional Skills Study Partnership released their final strategy draft regarding local workforce skills and competencies.

The partnership consisted of Lethbridge College, Alberta SouthWest, Economic Development Lethbridge, SouthGrow, Community Futures Alberta Southwest, Vulcan County, and Town of Taber. They explored the alignment between job seekers and employers in the region east of BC, south of Calgary, and west of Brooks.

The study found that over the next 5 years, the region will need 8,374 workers, with the highest demand positions being in the following 5 areas:

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  • Managers in agriculture (426)
  • Retail sales persons (275)
  • Nurse aides, orderlies, and patient services associates (234)
  • Registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses (232)
  • Food counter attendants, kitchen helpers and related support occupations (210)

Combined, these 5 occupations account for about 16.4% of total need between now and 2025.

As far as industry sectors with the highest demand for new workers during the same 5-year period, here are the top 5:

  • Health care and social services (1,111)
  • Government (779)
  • Education (697)
  • Accommodation and food services (448) and
  • Other business services (448)

These 5 sectors account for about 41.6% of all demand for new workers in the region over the next 5 years. Note that the sector projecting the highest demand also happens to have 3 of the most in-demand jobs, as listed above.

Regarding current share of the workforce, however, the make up of the top 5 sectors differs significantly:

  • Construction (947)
  • Retail trade (924)
  • Agriculture forestry fishing and hunting (914)
  • Health care and social assistance (651)
  • Other services (646).

For example, the construction sector currently employs more workers than any other single sector, but they don’t make the list of the top 5 sectors with the highest demand for new workers over the next half decade.

In fact, most of the highest-employing sectors don’t seem to be among the sectors forecasting the most demand for new workers.

But the disconnect between current workforce makeup and future demand isn’t the only disconnect discovered by the study.

Through analyzing nearly 9,200 job postings and over 9,100 job seekers between 1 March 2019 and 29 February 2020, the study found that the sector with the highest number of jobs postings was healthcare and social assistance, yet the sector with the most job seekers was accommodation and food services.

As well, a majority of employers interviewed for the study (62%) expressed a general lack of qualified individuals to choose from. In fact, the study found that despite having both a university and college in Lethbridge and several other educational opportunities within the region, workers here are less likely to be educated than counterparts elsewhere in the province.

In Alberta generally, 17% of the population have no certificate, diploma, or degree. Here in the southwest region, that jumps to 21%. The number of those with a post-secondary diploma or degree—including apprenticeships— was 49%, lower than the province’s 55%. As well, the proportion of the population here that has a university certificate, diploma, or degree at a bachelor level or above is only 16%, compared to 23% in the province.

EducationSW AlbertaRest of Alberta
No post-secondary21%17%
Some education49%55%
Bachelor level or higher16%23%

Job seekers, on the other hand, expressed discouragement at pursuing post-secondary education. They’re reluctant to take on significant debt to pursue an education for a job that may not exist after they finish their education in 2 to 4 years.

And even when they do go to school, 51% of those who graduate move away from the area within 6 months, citing contract length, available hours, and income instability as primary reasons for not staying.

The study also found that, according to some employer participants, the region pays less than other parts of Alberta, which affects an employer’s ability to negotiate wages with talented candidates.

Finally, the report highlighted 4 pillars for addressing this disconnect:

  1. Improving labour market information
  2. Increasing talent retention
  3. Aligning required skills and possessed skills
  4. Enhance talent attraction

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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