Alberta employers more optimistic about 2017, but worries persist

Alberta employers have had a tough go in 2016, but the annual Hays Salary Guide says 41 per cent of oil and gas employers believe business will rise in 2017.

Annual survey finds concern about loss of skilled workers to other industries — and other provinces

While worries persist, there is a growing sense of optimism among Alberta employers for 2017, according to an annual report by Hays Canada. (Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press)

Alberta employers have had a tough go in 2016, but there is growing optimism about a rebound next year, according to an annual report from a global recruiting firm's Canadian division.

The 2017 Hays Salary Guide, based on surveys of more than 4,000 employers and employees across the country, didn't exactly come up roses for Alberta — but it noted a marked improvement in business sentiment from a year earlier.

"Rather encouragingly, 41 per cent of oil and gas employers believe business will rise in 2017. And I don't know if there's another sector that's as ready to respond to the market as they are," Hays Canada president Rowan O'Grady said in a release.

While 48 per cent of employers in Alberta said they made staff cuts in 2016, the majority of them — 57 per cent — said their headcounts will remain stable in 2017, according to the report.

"The challenges in Alberta are obviously severe, however, we're seeing the same smart push for stability as in other sectors," O'Grady said.

Hays vice-president Jim Fearon said the industry has experienced "a very turbulent couple of years," but many employers are hopeful that the worst of the slowdown is behind them.

"I think that more people are cautiously optimistic that the bottom of the market has been reached," he said.

Concerns over skilled worker shortage

Still, the report notes that employers in Alberta "did not catch the break they were hoping for in 2016" and the low price of oil continues to weigh on many businesses in the province.

And there is a growing concern in the oil and gas sector, in particular, over skilled workers who are not just leaving the industry, but leaving the province altogether.

"Forty-one per cent of Alberta employers said that their biggest competition for talent is British Columbia, which led the country in increased business activity last year, and Ontario where 57 per cent of employers saw growth," the report reads.

In a separate report, Calgary-based AltaCorp Capital Inc. said Alberta energy companies are opting to cut staff, not wages, as they struggle to rein in costs in view of lower commodity prices.

It said Alberta oil and gas companies have eliminated about 29 per cent of their staff over the past two years but remaining resource sector workers are still bringing in about $2,300 per week, up nearly 25 per cent from five years ago.

With files from The Canadian Press