Calgary jobs returning but for many it means less pay, changing careers

Alberta saw 26,000 new jobs in the last quarter of 2017, but what does the road ahead look like for Calgarians still on the job hunt?

Companies are starting to rehire employees 'at significantly reduced wages,' says economist

At least 40,000 jobs were shed in Canada’s oil and gas industry in 2015, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Economists have started using the word recovery when talking about Alberta's economy, but what that recovery will look like over the long term isn't entirely clear.

Business news seems to be good for Calgary and most of Alberta; the price of oil has climbed back to more than $60 US per barrel and Calgary has surged back into the top 10 cities in terms of growth.

Stats Canada says Alberta recorded 26,000 new jobs in December, and a report from BMO Capital Markets says Alberta had its single best quarter for job gains of all time in 2017.

But what does the road ahead look like for Calgarians still on the job hunt, and how is this good news actually affecting Albertans?

For some, economic recovery looks a lot like a career change. And for others, it looks a lot like doing the same job for less pay.

CBC's Alberta@Noon asked callers to share their stories.

'It made a massive impact on the bottom line'

Anu Reddy said she took a course aimed at developing job-hunting skills — like resume building and networking — to help her break into the job market after being laid off.

"I was off for close to year and a half," said Reddy, who was working in Calgary's business development field for the better part of a decade before losing her job.

Reddy says attending the course to refresh skills that "seem basic" was crucial to finding a new job.

BMO Capital Markets says Alberta's employment numbers have recovered to pre-oil shock levels. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

Now she's employed but says getting back into her field meant taking a pay cut, leading to some lifestyle changes because of the decrease in pay.

"It made a massive impact on the bottom line," she said, adding she's cut back on spending on entertainment, phone bills and reduced her overall expenses.

"The priority is to make sure you pay your mortgage … and then everything else is kind of on the wayside, so [robbing] Peter to pay Paul sort of situation."

'People are finding work through the network'

Shelley Alexander found herself laid off last September after going on maternity leave.

Alexander says she saw the layoff coming and started networking online, declaring she was "open for business."

The price of oil has climbed back to more than $60 US per barrel. (CBC)

Within a few days, Alexander says, she was contacted on LinkedIn by a company she recognized. A little investigation revealed two of her network contacts had recommended her to the company, which then reached out on the social networking site.

"Because of that, I started work with a new company, all through LinkedIn and my network," Alexander said.

Like Reddy, Alexander says she took a pay cut when starting at her new job. But because she is also taking some university courses, she hasn't felt the sting of the pay cut because full-time work is "not a priority at this time."

Janet Salopek, founder and president of human resources consulting firm Salopek & Associates, says marketing yourself through a peer or online network is vital to Albertans still on the job hunt.

"We're finding that a lot of people are finding work through the network," Salopek said. "Call in your favours, contact people and you'll be amazed."

'I don't think it's ever coming back'

While there are some success stories coming out of Alberta, not everyone is feeling the economic bounce back as quickly as others.

For Calgarian Rob Bruce, recovery might look like changing careers.

With decades of experience under his belt working in engineering consulting as a draftsman, Bruce was laid off more than two years ago and is still trying to find work.

"My plan is to probably get out of consulting engineering," he said. "I'm in the later stages, 25 years experience in the industry and I haven't been getting any call backs to any resumes I've been sending out.

Bruce says his industry has "pretty much disappeared" in Alberta, so he has been working with a career consultant to change fields.

Janet Salopek, a human resources consultant, says Alberta's manufacturing industry is still facing hard times due to competition and thinning profit margins. (Ed Middleton/CBC/Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press)

"I don think it's ever coming back, myself," Bruce said of engineering consulting in Alberta, adding that he believes outsourcing engineering jobs is to blame for the state of the industry.

Frances Donald, a senior economist with Manulife Asset Management, says increased job numbers in Calgary last year gave the city a much needed economic boost, but not all industries have seen positive gains. 

"It's primarily private sector jobs. It's split between goods and services activity," Donald said. "This is a pretty significant improvement in a part of the economy that was very weak for a number of years."

Salopek says manufacturing and fabrication industries in the province are still facing hard times due to competition and thinning profit margins.

"So we're seeing a lot of closures. We saw a lot of layoffs, and, yes, they're not bringing back people. And if they're bringing them back, they're bringing them back at significantly reduced wages."

With files from Alberta@Noon

Calgary: The Road Ahead is CBC Calgary's special focus on our city as it passes through the crucible of the downturn — the challenges we face and the possible solutions as we explore what kind of Calgary we want to create. Have an idea? Email us at