The 10 industries that employed the most Albertans in 2019

Earlier this month, Statistics Canada released the annual statistics for labour force characteristics by industry. I went through them to see which industries employ the most people in Alberta.

Last month, Statistics Canada released the annual statistics for labour force characteristics by industry.

I went through them to see which industries employ the most people in Alberta. Here are the top 10 industries for 2019:

Industry2019% of total
Wholesale and retail trade337,00014.4%
Health care and social assistance293,40012.5%
Professional, scientific and technical services184,7007.9%
Educational services157,4006.7%
Accommodation and food services146,1006.2%
Forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, oil and gas145,6006.2%
Transportation and warehousing137,4005.9%
Other services (except public administration)115,7004.9%
Note: The total number of jobs in Alberta for 2019 was 2,343,000 million.

Here they are in a pie chart:

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Combined, these 10 industries contained over 80% of the jobs in the province in 2019.

I was actually kind of surprised that the industry that employed more people than any other single industry was wholesale and retail trade. I knew that selling consumer goods was significant, but I didn’t realize it was that significant.

Also surprising to me was that health care and social assistance was in second place. Alberta is certainly not known for its nurses and counsellors.

Frankly, construction in third place also kind of surprised me. I figured it’d probably in the top 10—after all it covers so much: housing, institutional, commercial, industrial, infrastructure—but I didn’t realize it’d be so high.

So, where’s oil and gas? Clearly it should be number 1, right? The rhetoric from successive provincial government would certainly make one think so. Obviously it’s not actually: Walmart and Superstore are in first place instead.

No, oil and gas are in 7th place actually. Even if you remove forestry, fishing, and hunting, it’s still at 141,700 jobs out of 2.3 million.

Not only are more people working as doctors and social workers than there are working as rig pigs, there are more slinging tables and ringing through groceries.

So, how do the numbers compare to Canada’s 2019 job numbers?

IndustryJobs% of total
Wholesale and retail trade2,841,80014.9%
Health care and social assistance2,489,70013.1%
Professional, scientific, technical services1,555,7008.2%
Educational services1,370,4007.2%
Accommodation and food services1,215,7006.4%
Finance, insurance, real estate, rental, leasing1,208,4006.3%
Transportation and warehousing1,037,9005.4%
Public administration1,012,8005.3%
Note: Total jobs in Canada for 2019 was 19,055,500.

Well, it seems that Alberta is on par with the rest of the country for the first two. Even the proportions are similar.

Manufacturing jumps to third place for the country, however. In Alberta, it’s 9th place.

Alberta’s construction, education, and hospitality industries employ a higher percentage of total jobs than the country as a whole does. The country’s finance industry hits the top 10, whereas the province’s lags behind the top 10 (It’s actually 12th, but that doesn’t show up in my table or chart). Same goes for public administration.

The two areas that are in the top 10 for Alberta but not for Canada are forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, oil and gas, as well as “other services (except public admin)”.

Now that we know how Alberta’s top employing sectors compare to Canada’s, how do the sectors compare over time?

Jobs are in the hundreds of thousands, not the hundreds

Unsurprisingly, the number of jobs went up. Alberta’s population has grown over the last 44 years, and those extra people living in Alberta need to buy homes, and groceries, and clothes, and gas, and they need to go to school and the doctor and so on.

Increased demand leads to more jobs after all. Probably explains why retail has consistently been the top employer in the province.

Nearly all sectors had significantly more jobs last year than they did in 1976. All except manufacturing.

While manufacturing had technically more jobs last year than in 1976, it had the smallest increase of all the other top 10 sectors.

In the last 44 years, the manufacturing sector went from employing the 3rd highest number of workers to employing the 9th highest number of workers.

We increased from 71,600 manufacturing jobs in 1976 to 136,000 in 2019, an improvement of 89.9%. Which seems like a lot until you consider that wholesale and retail jobs jumped from 138,500 in 1976 to 337,000 last year: a 143% increase.

Wholesale and retail jobs have been consistently climbing in Alberta; whereas, manufacturing jobs haven’t. Here, let’s isolate the manufacturing jobs.

Ah, there we go.

We can see not only that manufacturing jobs haven’t been consistently climbing, but there have been significant drops in the 1980s and during the Great Recession. While manufacturing jobs started rising again during the last half of the NDP’s term, they have yet to rise above their record high in 2002. And even that record high wasn’t much of a record, compared to other sectors.

But if population growth accounts for much of the growth in jobs anyhow, how can see what relative growth looks like? Whether any particular sectors have been creating more jobs than other sectors?

Let’s try charting jobs by sector as a portion of total jobs.

This chart shows us some interesting things that the other chart, which shows absolute job numbers, doesn’t.

For example, even though wholesale and retail employ the largest percentage of Alberta workers, compared to the other sectors, that percentage has been slowly shrinking over time.

Construction jobs, which made up the second largest percentage in 1976, plummeted in the 1980s and took over a decade to really start recovering. Even though it’s taking up a larger percentage than it did during that period, it’s only in 3rd place now, and possibly levelling off again.

Health care and social assistance jobs made up the second highest percentage last year, but in the late 1970s, they were in 4th/5th place. They’ve been making up a larger percentage of Alberta’s jobs for decades, and even started closing the gap with wholesale and retail jobs over the last 11 years or so. If the trend continues, it’s possible that health and social assistance could become Alberta’s largest employer.

Manufacturing, which had the third highest percentage of jobs in 1976, has been consistently losing its share size. It’s now in 9th place and was even in 10th place in only 2017.

Most of the other top 10 sectors have been pretty consistent in their share size over the last 44 years, even oil and gas—or rather, forestry, fishing, mining, and oil and gas—has hovered around the 5% and 6% mark.

The only other sector that has seen significant changes in share size was professional, scientific, and technical services, growing from 2.9% in 1976 to 7.8% in 2019. These are lawyers, accountants, engineers, scientists, researchers, advertisers, tech workers, and so on. That’ll be an interesting one to watch as time goes on.

Anything surprise you in this data? Let me know in the comments.

You can find the top 10 data and charts here.

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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.

12 replies on “The 10 industries that employed the most Albertans in 2019”

Given where the jobs are, the repeated proclamation by the UCP that they are about “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!”, while simultaneously throwing most of our investment revenue at Transnational Oil and Gas Companies, seems just a tad disingenuous …

Excellent presentation!
In your summary, you suggest that Professional/Scientific/Technical will be a sector of interest. I agree. The current government is dead set against higher education and education, and I really mean education (as contrasted to training for the ‘workforce’) and this cannot but have consequences for the numbers, as well as the far more difficult to measure quality of life for its citizenry. If this government and its leadership have done anything in this, they have, again, shown Alberta that a higher education is utterly unnecessary to gain power.

Of those O&G sector jobs, it would be interesting to see how many are Alberta residents and how many are based in other provinces and only work in Alberta. They’d pay Alberta provincial income tax at a rate similar to lawyers/doctors, the federal tax wouldn’t stay in Alberta, but they likely don’t spend the majority of their earnings in Alberta, the earnings would go back to their home provinces. Another interesting comparison would be the total earnings for each of those employment sectors to see what the earnings per job looks like in each sector.

Now, if only the article contained the impact to the GDP for each of the sectors measured. Your article appears to suggest, and your commentary (I think) that proportion of employment is important relative to total numbers. One could assume after reading that since a sector is a dominant employer, it is a dominant contributor. That is not the case.

Even as of 2019, resource extraction (my term) represented 26% of the overall GDP of Alberta at 88B of 334B

I would suggest this article is intentionally political. While it has merit illustrating change in economies (and perhaps where investment can be made to encourage more employment or diversification) the fact remains that in Alberta, resource extraction produces the most in terms of revenue (while employing a small percentage as noted in the article), which in turn is used to support our way of life and some of the other sectors noted.

It find it interesting, and perhaps you would as well, what this looks like on a national scale. Ontario, at more than 3x Alberta’s population has a GDP that is twice Alberta’s. Quebec has a population twice that of Alberta’s, with a GDP that is 10% higher than Alberta’s. Overall on a National scale, Alberta’s resource sector represents 4.5% of Canada’s total GDP, with population representation of 0.75% (based on the total employees in your article against Canada’s total population). I would be really interested in looking at what percentage of GDP resource extraction makes for in other provinces, and the net benefit there. Can I suggest journalistic inquiry? (Meant in jest, but with respect).

I am not in oil and gas, nor am I a lobbyist, but I think we have some structural issues to solve as a nation relative to replacing the GDP contribution of this industry with something else, to maintain what we know and love.

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