Focus on Edmonton: A “Lower For Longer” Economy

Last week we took a look at the recruitment challenges that Vancouver companies face when it comes to securing tech talent. Let’s move east, to The HeadHunters and TempsAhead office in Edmonton, where many talented individuals have been laid off in the oil patch.

“Lower for longer”

If you worked in Alberta’s oil and gas industry this past year, you will have heard the “lower for longer” motto that describes the current state of global oil prices. Unfortunately, this is more than a catchphrase. It is an economic reality that is affecting thousands of Canadian lives.

Some industry commentators have suggested that crude could return to $80 a barrel by 2020 but in the meantime it might drop as low as $20 a barrel. More conservative predictions, which are gaining traction among analysts, reckon that an average price of $50 a barrel over the next 15 years is a likely scenario. Bear in mind, that from 2011 to 2013 (and for most of 2014), crude never dropped below $90 a barrel, was usually above $100 a barrel, and enjoyed spikes that saw it rise to more than $120 a barrel. When oil prices hovered around $40 a barrel through 2015, at least 63,000 Albertan jobs disappeared. While not all of those jobs were directly in the oil and gas industry, the energy sector’s reach in the province had obvious knock-on effects. Unfortunately, “lower for longer” means that many of those exact jobs will not return to the market any time soon. Still, the mainstream media and economic commentators did not predict Alberta’s downturn, so caution may be wise when we look to them for answers about how all this will end.

Alberta is coping

Despite the figures cited above and the turmoil that unemployment brings to the lives of Canadian families, Alberta is staying afloat. Yes, the Alberta provincial government expects the economy to contract by one per cent in 2015-2016. But to offset the fallout of this recession, a $6.1 billion deficit is planned to encourage economic stability throughout the province. And a massive $34 billion will be spent on infrastructure over the next five years, providing jobs for many of those laid off in the oil patch. Furthermore, a new job creation incentive program is aiming to create 27,000 new jobs in Alberta by 2018.

It is not just provincially-funded infrastructure projects that are reemploying Albertans. Municipalities and private investors are embarking on major construction projects left-and-right. In fact, the City of Edmonton issued a record number of construction permits this summer. While these initiatives are not as attractive as $100-a-barrel oil prices, bear in mind that recipients of Employment Insurance in Alberta rose from 29,150 to 57,980 between September 2014 and September 2015. There are tens-of-thousands of Albertans who could benefit from these programs and projects if they embrace them.

Accepting the change

Yes, many of these new projects won’t pay the oil patch salaries that were the envy of other provinces. But they do represent well-paid Albertan job vacancies for engineers, project managers, welders, labourers, drivers…the list goes on. The point is, that good jobs are opening up for Albertan applicants right now. At The HeadHunters and TempsAhead, we are currently recruiting for these jobs. However, we often see applications that include resumes more suited to oil patch positions. It is not that the applicants are unqualified for construction projects. Rather, these qualified people are not making the most of the transferable skills they picked up in the oil patch. Remember, as a province, we have had it really good here, but that has changed. And Albertans have to work a little harder to secure a job now.

Applying for a commercial project management job in Edmonton requires a specific skill-set: a skill-set that many Fort McMurray alumni possess. However, these ‘oil patch’ applicants often submit resumes that highlight skills and experience that are simply less sought after in the city. Yet most experienced project managers (or maintenance managers, or team leads, or whatever) have, at times, demonstrated the expertise that these non-oil patch employers are asking for. Now is the time for candidates to emphasize such achievements in their cover letters, resumes, and interviews.

At The HeadHunters and TempsAhead, we have seen the booms and the downturns, so we “get” transferable skills. We also know that in Western Canada there remains better opportunities than just about anywhere in the world. But the process of leveraging all this is far easier when “lower for longer” is perceived as an opportunity, not a kiss of death.