'Times have changed': Edmonton job seekers conflicted over labour market

More than a hundred people lined up inside the Edmonton Convention Centre as the doors opened for a training and career fair Tuesday morning. It offered a snapshot of Alberta's job market and economic recovery.

Some are optimistic, others are impatient with economic recovery

People start to line up at a career fair in Edmonton before doors open on Tuesday morning. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Kyle Matuk lined up alongside more than a hundred people inside the Edmonton Convention Centre as the doors to a training and career fair opened Tuesday morning.  

The journeyman, Red Seal insulator worker has promoted his line of work at these fairs before. But Matuk said as contracts in the oilpatch have dried up, he's now the one looking for work.

"When I was 18, I moved to Alberta in 2008. All you had to do is have three things: you had to be 18, own a set of work boots and get your [safety training], and you've got a job," he said.

"I guess those times have changed."

Kyle Matuk, a Red Seal insulator worker, said he is considering a shift in career path to accommodate a drop in oil prices. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Matuk said the fair, organized by Job Classified, was short on work options. Amid the 25 exhibitors, there were more post-secondary booths looking to train than there were companies looking to hire.

Matuk is now considering a job in the railroad business. Premier Rachel Notley announced in late November that the government would buy up to 7,000 tank cars to ease a backlog of oil caught up in pipelines.

"That's maybe going to be one of the big ones," Matuk said.

On the move again?

The Alberta job market has made gains since the price of oil crashed in 2015 and unemployment soared in 2016.

The average annual employment jumped by 43,800 jobs in 2018, or 1.9 per cent, according to a report published by the Alberta Treasury Board and Finance. That's roughly a percentage point higher than 2017.

Edmonton unemployed hope to access the changing job market. 0:55

The provincial unemployment rate also fell to 6.6 per cent last year, from a high of nine per cent in November 2016.

"I think we're on the move again," said Janet Clahane, as she walked into the conference centre Tuesday.

Clahane, an office administrator, decided to leave her old job and has been looking for a new opportunity over the past week.

"You have to make looking for a job your full-time job," she said.

'Hard to be optimistic'

The jobs numbers tell different stores depending on the particular metric and the region of the province. In most of eastern Alberta, employment growth fell by an average of two per cent in 2018. The latest monthly report also shows Alberta's economy lost 17,000 jobs in December.

The provincial participation rate — a measure of the working population that's either employed or seeking employment — hit a 25-year low of 71.6 per cent in December.

But Maureen McNeil is still looking. She has been out of work since October, and had plans to visit two job fairs on Tuesday.  

"It's hard to be optimistic, but it's like I tell my daughter. It's one minute, one hour, one day at a time. You can't let it get you down," she said. "But the last couple years have been really difficult. This last one even worse."

A self-described jack-of-all-trades, McNeil has worked in hospitality, road work and heavy equipment operations. At 58-years-old, she said it's "frustrating" to see the job market increasingly turn to impersonal online recruitment and job fairs.

While she's spent most of her life in Edmonton, she has started to look for work in other parts of the province.

"I'm worth a lot of years out here yet," she said.

Maureen McNeil has been out of work since October. If she can't find work soon, McNeil said she will join her daughter in the Maritimes. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Seasonal work has also become harder to find, she said. If nothing comes around by October, she will consider joining her daughter in the Maritimes.

"You'll see me going east, not the easterners coming west," McNeill said.

"It's time to calm down, settle down, enjoy the ocean," she added with a wry smile.  


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