Calgary's talent pool under threat as workers poached by other provinces

Calgary companies hired talent from other provinces for years, and now other provinces are hoping to win back highly-skilled workers who have been laid off.

Calgary Economic Development says it's in a 'race against time' to retain workers

About Staffing CEO Sharlene Massie says she's being approached by companies in other provinces wanting to scoop up Calgary's highly-skilled unemployed. (Colleen Underwood/CBC)

A Calgary staffing agency believes we are at the beginning of a trend reversal.

For years, local recruiters have been luring skilled workers away from other provinces to come to work in Calgary.

But now, companies from other provinces are dipping into the deepening pool of unemployed Calgary workers.

"I think it's a great strategy, even for About Staffing," said the company's CEO Sharlene Massie.

"We'll try to work this angle to help other Albertans who are unemployed or looking for work," said Massie, who's been bombarded with resumes but unable to offer much work in return.

Massie says about a week ago, a call came in from a midsize accounting firm in B.C. that was in desperate need of chartered professional accountants.

"Because they said that B.C. is really low on quality staff right now in the accounting field,  and so they are looking to come to Alberta and take people from here who are looking for work." 

Massie says she quickly set up interviews with nine people. The company's HR manager flew in to meet the candidates in person.
"He has already booked second interviews with a number of those candidates and he will hire at least three people to move to Vancouver. So it's working, his strategy is working."   

Marketing Calgary workers

Alberta used to be a real pull and was stealing people from your markets, and now its possibly a source for you- Mike Kelly, David Aplin Group

Mike Kelly, with national recruitment agency David Aplin Group, specializes in placing engineers and technologists in energy and construction industries. His office is based in Calgary. 
Kelly says he's also working with a B.C. company that is looking for a steel fabrication design engineer.

"They had raised the idea that there might be some good candidates out of Calgary and I said, 'Yes, absolutely,'" although Kelly says the company's initial preference is to hire locally.   

Kelly says David Aplin is marketing the availability of workers in Alberta  at its offices across Canada. 

"Alberta used to be a real pull and was stealing people from your markets, and now its possibly a source for you, given the economy in Alberta," said Kelly.

Trying to retain workers here

Calgary Economic Development says this city is at risk of losing qualified workers because of the sheer volume of job losses. So it is trying to find ways to retain people.

"People want to stay here, they like the city. We've got great arts and culture, sports and recreation, the things that keep people here," said Mary Moran the CEO of Calgary Economic Development. 

Moran says the organization has been pitching Alberta's talent to different jurisdictions in the United States.

But instead of sending people away to work, she says Calgary Economic Development is trying to entice companies to set up satellite offices in Calgary.

"It would also help us diversify our economy and it would help us reduce us the vacancy rate in the downtown core." 

One area it's targeting is Silicon Valley.

Moran says they are in need of everything from accountants to project managers to engineers. She said Vancouver did something similar a few years ago, and wound up with companies like Microsoft setting up an office there.

But for now Moran just encourages people to upgrade their skills, change career direction, or go into areas like innovation.

"The unfortunate part is that we have a race against time. A lot of the severance packages are running out now, so if the federal government comes in and extends that, then we buy ourselves a little bit of breathing space. But we've got to move quickly on this stuff."