When John Hobden was laid off last December, he did what many Albertans are doing, he filed for Employment Insurance and pondered returning to school.
He filed his claim to Service Canada and began receiving benefits, but learned he had to reapply when he decided to attend NAIT.
That's when Hobden found out that trying to reach anyone at Service Canada can be as much work as — well — work.
"I called, called and called and never got through," he said during a Tuesday morning interview on CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.
He said he called hundreds of times and only got into the queue twice, only to be cut off after being put on hold, once for two hours.
"One day I probably called 150 times and got through maybe once, then I got disconnected. That happens quite often, whenever I call."
He estimates he spent 10 hours on the phone in total and never spoke to an agent.
"It's pretty frustrating," he said.
Finally he went into a Service Canada office.
"I said, 'I need to pay some bills here.' "
By the time he returned to his Wetaskiwin home, the problem was fixed.
The agent discovered the worker who had filled out Hobden's information in his EI application had entered the year as 2017, rather than 2016.
Two days later, Hobden received his first cheque.
Service Canada acknowledges just under one-third of all calls into Service Canada ever get answered, with the average wait time for successful callers about 13 minutes.
"Demand to the call centre network fluctuates over the course of the year," Service Canada said in an email.
"While the call centre network makes every effort to meet these fluctuations, high call volume periods may still lead to instances where demand exceeds the network's call handling capacity."
Hobden calls that ridiculous.
"I'm sure they have a huge volume of people calling," he said. "They may need to hire some more people."
Service Canada encourages applicants to use its website to apply for benefits.
"Currently over 98 per cent of applications are online," it said. "The online application is interactive and it enables the department to gather as much information up front in order to ensure the timely processing of the application."
Hobden said he tried using the current website (a new site is under construction), but found it too difficult to navigate.
"Some of it's pretty confusing. I found it's easier to call them. They're magicians with that. They know how to get through there."