Alberta recruiter sees hope on jobs horizon, despite economists' tempered expectations

An Alberta recruitment firm is seeing signs that the job market is starting to pick up but economists have cautioned that the province's unemployment rate is likely to remain high for some time, even as the economy starts to recover.

Economy expected to return to growth in 2017, but that won't mean a sudden surge in hiring

The CEO of an Alberta-based recruitment firm says she's noticed a recent uptick in job offerings. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

An Alberta recruitment firm is seeing signs the job market is starting to pick up, but economists have cautioned the province's unemployment rate is likely to remain high for some time, even as the economy starts to recover.

Sharlene Massie, CEO of About Staffing, said she's definitely seen an uptick in job offerings recently and she's not the only one.

"I sat with my competition last night — sounds kind of sneaky, but we are all friends — and we all talked about how we've seen a bit of a surge in the last couple of months." 

Massie said the new jobs are spread among a variety of fields and noted a return of engineering and management positions, in particular.

"I've heard that the engineers are sitting by the phone, knowing that these jobs are starting to pop up, so they're less vacationing and [more] waiting for the calls," she said.

"We certainly have seen an increase in management roles and we haven't seen that in years. I think it's been three years since we've had orders for management roles — but middle management seems to be kind of cropping up right now, which is new and I wasn't expecting that."

However, economists have tempered any expectations of a sudden hiring spree in Alberta.

TD Economics issued a report Tuesday warning of a "bittersweet" recovery in Alberta, as the job market is "expected to remain soft, leaving unemployment rates historically elevated."

Todd Hirsch, chief economist with ATB Financial, offered a similar assessment.

"Modest growth is going to come back next year, but the unemployment rate is going to be a little bit sticky," he said.

"In fact, we expect the unemployment rate going into 2017 to remain quite high, and that's going to make it feel recessionary for a lot of Albertans."

ATB Financial chief economist Todd Hirsch speaks with the CBC's Bryan Labby about Alberta's economic outlook for the new year. 5:28

Massie acknowledged the economic forecast may not be scintillating, but said she's still optimistic about the job market at least turning a corner.

"I think it's going to be a slow recovery, but I do feel good about it. My customers feel good about it, my candidates feel good about it, my competitors feel good about it," she said.

"We are a lagging indicator, so we usually see the recovery last. So if it's already hit us that there is a recovery on the horizon, then it must be true because nobody hires until they're sure that they can afford to keep those people on."

With files from The Calgary Eyeopener and CBC Calgary News at 6