'Don't get discouraged': Alberta economist predicts job market turnaround could take until 2021

Domini Packer, a single mother with two children, returned to school in 2016 in pursuit of a business administration diploma that she hoped would help her job hunt. But now she's wondering whether it was worth it.

An Albertan who returned to school to boost her job prospects questions whether it helped her job hunt

Calgarians struggling to find work in Alberta's economic recovery say they're told hundreds of people are applying for the same job. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Taking the Pulse is a series from CBC News examining how Albertans are coping with today's economic conditions.

In 2016, at the height of the recession — and after spending nearly a decade at home raising her kids — Domini Packer returned to school in pursuit of a business administration diploma, thinking it would set her up well when she applied for jobs.

Packer had recently separated from her husband, was working in retail and had finally landed an assistant management position.

"I just wanted to expand on that so I could get a better paying job," said Packer, who lives in Calgary. "At least, that was the theory."

'300 to 400 applicants per posting'

The 34-year-old mom of two graduated in September and says she was excited by the number of job prospects — but her job hunt has not gone as planned.

"I have not been able to secure a job. I applied for a bunch but didn't get very many interviews," she said. "And then when I would interview for something, they always mentioned that there was like 300 to 400 applicants per posting."

But Joseph Marchand, an associate professor of economics at the University of Alberta, says even though the job market is a tough, competitive place right now, it's not time to give up.

"Don't get discouraged," he said. "There is light at the end of the tunnel for them." 

He says there are some numbers that show Alberta's economy is recovering.

"The good news is that if you look at individuals 15 and over, employment as just a count of individuals that are employed has gone up," he said. "There is an increase of about 50,000 jobs between April 2015 to November 2018."

Marchand says at the same time, the province's population has increased by about 100,000 people. 

"Which is also good news," he said. "But putting those two things together — that's where the bad news starts."

'More people competing for the same number of positions'

According to Marchand, when people begin to hear the economy is recovering, those who have been out of the labour market — like Packer — are enticed back in.

Couple that with the increasing population?

"Now there's just more people competing for the same number of positions," he said.

Marchand says because of this, he predicts continued uncertainty in the job market through 2019 and 2020 — with a reprieve becoming more evident by 2021.

"It's not that I perceive worse times ahead," he said. "It's just that the stagnation might take a while before we really see the growth that everybody would want to get all these individuals back into the labour market."

Questioning value of education

But Packer says her experience job hunting for the last four months, attending career counselling and job fairs, has deflated her confidence.  

"This process kind of made me feel like I probably shouldn't have gone back to school, because now I've run into being told I'm overqualified to go back into retail," she said.

"But when it comes to what what they're looking for, I'm not qualified enough, and I don't have enough experience in my actual field."

Packer said that everyone always told her that if she wanted to better herself, she should go back to school and become more qualified.

"But it's not working out that way," she said. "It's just incredibly frustrating to be willing and able to work and to be unable to find anything."

'Do your homework'

Janet Lane, director of human capital with the Canada West Foundation, says part of job hunting tends to be circular. 

"It's a bit of a chicken and egg thing," she said. "How do you gain experience if you need it to get the job?"

Janet Lane, director of Human Capital for Canada West Foundation, says sometimes school isn't enough and applicants should do their homework about the specifics of a particular job they're applying for. (CBC)

When someone finishes school, Lane said that person may — or may not — have all the skills an employer is looking for.

And to make matters more difficult, employers in today's labour market are often getting hundreds — if not 1,000 — applicants for one job.

Lane has some advice for those struggling to stand out in their applications.

She says sending blanket resumes to all those hiring isn't a good strategy; applicants need to prove they understand exactly what a job requires. 

"Do your homework outside of school to find out what is it that the employers in this particular sector or industry or job category are actually hiring for," said Lane.

"Go and talk to people who are in those jobs already, find out what they're mostly doing all day, make sure that you know how to do that to add to your value."

Looking at 2019 elections

Marchand also has advice. He says heading into provincial and federal elections in 2019, voters should pay attention to what parties say about policies aimed at stimulating the labour market. 

He points to a 2015 policy put forward by the NDP in the form of a job creation tax.

"This particular policy didn't really get off the ground … but theoretically, these type of policies, this is what we would need to move the labour demand forward."


Lucie Edwardson


Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary, currently focused on bringing you stories related to education in Alberta. In 2018 she headed a pop-up bureau in Lethbridge, Alta. Her experience includes newspaper, online, TV and radio. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson or reach her by email at


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