Alberta Skills Crunch – How to Get Past It

Alberta has a very skewed employment challenge. The jobs waiting to be filled are generally trade and non-professional roles and specifically anything directly or indirectly related to oil and gas. See Calgary Herald story.

While this worker shortage is a real and present issue, much of the attention is prudent advance warning and communication to public and governments. This is a good sign. It means business leaders are planning for future and not just the next quarterly results.

Over past decade, the flow of workers has gone to the oil and gas company trade and non-professional jobs which are best paying jobs, so workforce has long since and continues to gravitate towards these jobs.

Without oil and gas these people would either a) not be in Alberta in the first place or b) working in non oil and gas jobs (eg ‘normal’ economy jobs).

However, oil and gas companies have so much work, and require such peculiar skills, that that even though they already employ majority of those skills available, they need more. It is these skilled that they want to import workers for. It is almost impossible to train enough people in-country. These skills include:

  •     Geologists
  •     Metallurgists
  •     Mineralogists
  •     Engineers, including plant, process, mechanical, design, cost and site engineers
  •     Construction managers, planners and estimators
  •     Drillers and blasters
  •     Electricians
  •     Iron workers & metal fabricators
  •     Heavy equipment operators and mechanics
  •     Steamfitters and pipefitters
  •     Welders

Non oil and gas jobs waiting to be filled include such jobs and percent vacancy rate such as:

  •     Food Service Supervisors 16.0%
  •     Chefs 11.8%
  •     Hairstylists and Barbers 11.8%
  •     Bakers 9.9%
  •     Restaurant and Food Service Managers 8.5%
  •     Service Station Attendants 8.5%
  •     Bartenders 7.5%
  •     Landscape and Horticulture Technicians and Specialists 7.1%
  •     Hotel Front Desk Clerks 6.0%

See the source for list of all shortages in all Alberta regions … see Alberta gov stats ( » Human Services » Employment and Immigration » Business & Industry » Labour Market Information » Skill Shortages)

If someone is applying any of these jobs, and has relevant skills and employer says they are overqualified or do not have ‘Canadian’ experience, frankly, that employer shouldn’t be in business because they will be lucky to get other qualified candidates.

As for the other category of jobs … ‘office work’, professional and IT related jobs .. they are pretty much staffed up, and with a few exceptions, aren’t on Alberta Government shortage lists.

The solutions to addressing this worker shortage include the following:

  •     Better use of Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and recruitment analytics (Applicant Tracking Systems are both the solution and the problem, Recruitment Analytics – 2, Recruitment Analytics)
  •     Training new worker.
  •     Changing the business to more innovative with respect to the workplace such as offering free food, a ‘fun’ workplace, etc. See below for an example of what extreme other skill crunched companies will go to get their skilled workers.
  •     Getting new workers through immigration, without changing the business model is the most immediate payoff, preferred means of meeting labour shortage.

Consider the case of Elaine Wherry and Meebo.  JavaScript developers are in high demand so the owner of this company was doing everything to find javascript developers which her company’s technology is based on.

She was using:

  •     recruiters
  •     LinkedIn
  •     networks,
  •     seeded every nook of the Web with job descriptions,
  •     with guerilla recruiting tactics like hosting JavaScript meetups across the country,
  •     hand-written congratulatory notes on the seats of CS Stanford students who’d just finished their finals,
  •     a spidering engine to find online JavaScript resumes,
  •     buying Google AdWords for relevant terms like xmlhttp, opendatabase, and localstorage.

So she got creative and decided to create a ‘honeypot’  .. she created a  fake javascript developer named Pete London who was a Javascript expert looking for a job. She wanted to find out who were the best recruiters and how they recruited people she needed.

She learned a lot about how recruiters went after javascript developers. She found same recruiters were finding her developers and then coming back to poach them later!

But this exercise helped her understand better how to find javascript developers she needed.

Suggestion is that if you are finding it tough to find ‘good workers’ then you have to get creative, and you have to get introspective.

  •     do you really offer something more than ‘just a job’ that someone who “wants to work” will find rewarding? is that why you aren’t getting those people?
  •     are you really looking everywhere you possibly can or are you just doing same old search?
  •     for labour based businesses, you are competing against huge business in oil and gas, so what can you offer to compete?
  •     consider what tech companies have long been forced to do to attract and keep top talent.. they offer free food, relaxed work spaces, increased benefits, … these are cost of doing business. can your companies do something similar in your own way?

If you say that finding people who “want to work” are hard to find, and doing nothing about it:

  •     are you conceding that your business will never perform better for lack of talent?
  •     is this is a realization that you need a different business model that doesn’t depend on people who “want to work” ?

The labour situation in Alberta is not likely to get better anytime soon, and is more likely to offer you fewer opportunities to find people who “want to work”.

So what are Alberta companies going to do about this!

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