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Trades in Alberta update

Trades Alberta: Trades remain vital despite changing economic outlook

EDMONTON - Fear has been known as the ‘enemy of progress.’ Alberta is putting that adage to the test, as oil prices have dropped recently and raised concerns over economic growth and employment prospects.

But regardless of the current market conditions, skilled labour is vital to propelling the economy forward. Many believe that despite the present challenges, keeping one’s eyes fixed on the future requires investments in training — particularly in the skilled trades.

“Looking at the big picture, we expect the trades will remain an excellent career choice, since employers will need highly skilled workers as the economy rebounds and there are still industries where labour challenges persist,” says Paul Oss, public affairs officer with Alberta Innovation and Advanced Education.

While belts are being tightened in the resource sector, labour is still needed for ongoing maintenance work that is required regardless of the price of oil.

BuildForce Canada, a construction industry information resource, reports that just under half the labour force in Alberta’s oil and has sector is centred on maintenance work, and that figure should rise to more than half over the next eight years as the industry grows.

Some oil companies are taking a strategic approach, snapping up skilled trade workers from companies that are cutting costs by letting labour go.

In addition, an aging workforce is still a considerable challenge for many employers that will need to be addressed for many years to come, regardless of the fluctuation in oil prices.

Construction, which now employs one in 14 Canadian workers, is an industry of opportunity, since more than one-quarter of its workforce will retire over the next decade.

“That opens up close to 250,000 new positions, right across the country,” says Rosemary Sparks, executive director of BuildForce Canada.

There was also a downturn in the energy sector in 2009, but the most recent BuildForce forecast shows that by 2013, construction employment had grown past the 2008 peak level with employment more than doubling from 1997 to 2012.

“There’s no doubt that when oil is more than $100 a barrel, it is artificially high, and when it is $50 a barrel, it is artificially low, so we know that eventually it will land somewhere in the middle,” says Malcolm Haines, NAIT’s dean of trades.

“If we back off of investing in training, then when things inevitably pick up again, we won’t be able to meet the demands of the workforce. That would be very unfortunate.”

Training facilities in the province are moving forward with advancements, equipment purchases and expansions.

“An economy will always have its ups and downs, but we need to be ready for the demands when they come, and the only way to do that is to keep training people now,” says Haines.

And there are many large-scale projects moving forward regardless of the drop in oil prices.

There are industrial construction projects and plans for more than $14 billion in future growth in the Edmonton region that will generate considerable income and employment, according to a report by Alberta’s Industrial Heartland Association (AIHA).

Several major companies including ATCO Ltd., MEG Energy Corp., North West Redwater Partnership, Pembina Pipeline Corp., TransCanada Corp., Plains Midstream Canada and Williams Energy Canada Inc. are all planning industrial projects in the region.

“The apprenticeship and industry training system is industry-driven,” says Oss. “So industry needs to maintain their workforce — that means hiring and training apprentices and ensuring they complete their technical training. Even with fluctuations in the economy, we still need a workforce that is well-educated, highly skilled and productive.”

While RBC lowered its forecast for real GDP growth in 2015 to 2.7 per cent from 3.5 per cent, which would bring it down to match the national average, it is still forecasting that growth in Alberta will continue at a “respectable” pace.

Oil companies across Canada have been cutting budgets and some are laying off staff, but January’s national employment numbers were still strong. Canada’s economy added 35,000 jobs during the month, which was much higher than the 5,000 jobs that economists had anticipated.

In Alberta, the province added 13,700 jobs in January. Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 10 Alberta employers also filed advanced notices with the labour ministry to terminate a total of 4,544 workers. That figure includes 1,962 employees from Target Canada, which announced in January it would cease operations in Canada.

The upstream oil industry has been negatively affected, and job losses include professional scientific and technical positions, such as geologists and engineers. However, Alberta’s economy is more diversified than it has been previously, and businesses related to oil processing and transport actually benefit from falling prices and a weaker dollar.

“Despite a recent drop in energy prices, Alberta’s economy is expected to grow in the coming year,” says Oss. “Although some sectors are experiencing challenges, Alberta’s job market remains relatively strong, and many sectors are creating jobs and require skilled workers. We believe the outlook remains positive for the trades.”


The Alberta government reports that these trades will continue to be in great demand in the next three years:

o Crane and Hoisting Equipment Operator

o Electrician

o Heavy Equipment Technician

o Instrument Technician

o Insulator

o Machinist

o Rig Technician

o Steamfitter-Pipefitter

o Welder

o Plumber

o Carpenter