Economists say the job market is hollowing out. What does that mean for Calgarians?

Work is changing. Attitudes are changing — in Calgary and across the country. Historically, Calgary’s fortunes have gone up and down with the price of oil, not just for engineers and executives, but with extra cash feeding construction, service jobs and retail. Now other trends are threatening.

Work is changing. But the numbers don’t tell the full story. What have you seen?

Construction workers install sheets of drywall.
Construction workers install sheets of drywall at a building project in Calgary in a file photo from 2016. (The Canadian Press)

Welding is loud, dirty work — precarious in Alberta in that it's tied to the constant ebbs and flows of the economy.

After 10 years, Laurn MacIsaac is proud of a career she thinks she can count on. But the apprentices who work under her? Not so much. 

"The ones that I've talked to have said that the trades were kind of like a gateway to make money so that they can pay off their next choice of education," she said.

Work is changing. Attitudes are changing — in Calgary and across the country.

A woman wearing a mask looks at the camera.
Ten years as a welder and Laurn MacIsaac is proud of her career, but she hasn't heard the same enthusiasm from young apprentices. (Submitted by Laurn MacIsaac)

Historically, Calgary's fortunes have gone up and down with the price of oil, not just for engineers and executives, but with extra cash feeding construction, service jobs and retail.

Now other trends are threatening. Cities in Canada and beyond are seeing middle-skill jobs — for example, machine operators and cashiers — steadily disappearing.

And while some believe a labour shortage could lead to higher wages for typically low-paid jobs, it's not yet clear if/when that will happen. And then there's artificial intelligence. And the pandemic. Did it accelerate other trends we're only now discovering?

Today, CBC Calgary is launching a new community-driven series on work. We want to hear your stories on how your industry is changing and what it actually means on the ground.

Is it changing your ambitions or dreams?

Use our text messaging app if you want to chat in a confidential way. Then together we can figure out how to tell the work stories that matter — paint a clearer picture of life in Calgary and maybe get better prepared for the road ahead. 

Where Calgary is at now

Boom and bust. Today, Alberta is booming with record profits for oil companies and the promise of massive reinvestment in 2023.

But will those middle-wage jobs come back? Calgary is the second most unequal city in Canada, after Toronto, according to the 2022 Community Wellbeing Report, released Tuesday. Almost 42,000 Calgarians are considered "working poor," and one in five Calgarians can't afford healthy food.

And there's a skills mismatch. In Alberta, Statistics Canada says there are about 100,000 open jobs and about 150,000 people looking for work, while companies especially in energy, manufacturing and construction say they can't find people. Groups such as the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters say there's a lack of interest in those jobs from younger Canadians and an exodus of aging baby boomers.

Multiple cranes are set up as a building is being constructed in downtown Calgary.
Construction takes place in downtown Calgary in this file photo. An ongoing labour shortage is particularly impacting some highly technical jobs, such as heavy-duty mechanics, crane operators and millwrights. (Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press)

What does it mean on the ground? In some cities, the labour shortage has led to markets being tilted in favour of workers for the first time in memory.

Last week, The Atlantic magazine reported that millions of low-income families in the United States have started earning more because of companies such as McDonald's, Dairy Queen and Subway offering signing incentives, and Lowe's giving bonuses to hourly workers.

A labour shortage can be powerful, said Janet Lane, a director with the Canada West Foundation. But she's seen only small changes so far in Alberta: slight wage increases in hospitality and retail. She thinks new demands from the younger workers will make a bigger difference. 

"We will start to see [more change] as the demographic shift continues. Younger people are demanding certain kinds of work and opportunities and work-life balance," she said.

What have you seen?

A lot of moving parts, and still the looming question of what will happen next to the oil and gas markets driving Calgary's economy. And how Calgary can prepare for that.

So we can take this project in many different directions, and you can help steer it. 

  • If you moved to Calgary in the last five years, was there anything that struck you about Calgary's job market that you weren't expecting?
  • If you're working one or more part-time jobs, is that by choice?
  • If you're at the beginning of your work life, how are you deciding what kind of job you want? Is that different from your parents' choices?
  • If you're nearing retirement, what do you hope the younger generation will change? Or keep?
  • Are there specific actions you're hoping to see from provincial leaders that could bring back middle-income jobs?

Whether you work in construction or retail, as an office receptionist, farmer or Skip the Dishes driver, tell us about the changes you see around you.

Maggy Wlodarczyk is a member of ACORN, a low- and middle-income union with a new branch in Calgary.

She's seen changes.

"I used to hold several different management positions, both at restaurants and in child care. I just noticed that those positions aren't really available anymore," she said. 

"It forces people to either upgrade their education and get into a higher level of work, or perhaps a different industry, or it forces them into … lower level jobs."

But that's not the right way to describe it, either, she said, correcting herself.

"I don't really see these jobs as being lower level. I think that it's just, as a society, we need to put a higher value on this type of work."


Joel is a reporter/editor with CBC Calgary. In fall 2021, he spent time with CBC's bureau in Lethbridge. He was previously the editor of the Airdrie City View and Rocky View Weekly newspapers. He hails from Swift Current, Sask. Reach him by email at