Alberta oil sector layoffs bringing Islanders back home

Prince Edward Island is seeing more Islanders who have gone out West to work returning home and seeking work on the Island after job losses in the oil sector and economic downturn in Alberta.

P.E.I. recruitment company says Islanders looking to return home

David Fraser has returned home from working out West after oil patch layoffs. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

Islanders who headed West to find work in Alberta's oilpatch are trickling back home to P.E.I. in the wake of Alberta's economic downturn — and they're looking for work.

Traditionally people who are living in other provinces don't make as heavily the volume of inquiries as they are now and it's exclusively due to the energy turn down.— Blake Doyle, Island Recruiting

David Fraser from Mount Albion, P.E.I., moved to the Red Deer area in early summer of 2014 with his wife and three adult children, where he did work related to the oil field.

But it didn't last. The family came back to P.E.I. in June of last year.

"As fall and winter progressed, the oil prices dropped and there were layoffs going on all around us. Their jobs in non-oil patch work were safe, but mine — the hours got cut back as the winter went on and eventually my job was eliminated come spring," said Fraser.

"It was pretty shocking. We thought, 'Will we go home? Will we stick it out here for a little while longer?' But things were just getting worse and worse and we just said well we may as well come home and at least be with our family and back in familiar surroundings."

'It's been hard'

Fraser said he's met plenty of other Maritimers who've returned to the East Coast after losing jobs out West.

"It's been hard," the 50-year-old said.

Blake Doyle, owner and operator of Island Recruiting, says more people in Western Canada, specifically in the energy sector, are inquiring about jobs on P.E.I. (Krystalle Ramlakha/CBC)

"We've had to budget quite a bit ... It's always been a bit of an economic roller coaster with energy prices the way they are and short-term layoffs. So we're okay here for now. We've got work. Of course, it doesn't pay the same."

Island Recruiting, a company that connects employers and workers, said more people in Alberta have been looking for work on P.E.I. in the past six months.  

"We're getting a lot of people applying, inquiring, contacting us from Western Canada, specifically from the energy sector. People looking to patriate themselves back home and find a path to return to P.E.I. that under normal circumstances probably would stay in the very vibrant energy sector out West," said Blake Doyle, who owns and operates the company.     

Georgetown Mayor Lewis Lavandier is seeing an increase in young Islanders coming home. (CBC)

"Traditionally people who are living in other provinces don't make as heavily the volume of inquiries as they are now and it's exclusively due to the energy turn down."

Georgetown Mayor Lewis Lavandier said he's seeing young people return from the West as well. 

"It certainly has an adverse affect on the young men that have gone out there for employment," he said. "There's quite a number of young people that are back and really nothing on the horizon in the near future for them."

An opportunity for the Island

But Doyle said jobs drying up out West could be advantageous for P.E.I. 

"I think the economic downturn has created an opportunity to bring people back as long as local labour market supports those people patriating back in to the province."      

'We're just keeping our options open for now and keeping our heads down and hoping it doesn't last too long.— David Fraser

Doyle said there is local growth in sectors like bio-science, advanced manufacturing and aerospace.

"These continue to be fairly stable sectors. Some of the traditional sectors are a little bit more challenged, so construction, trades — they're not as vibrant." 

But Doyle said there's a small window to attract people back to the Island.

"I think the province has about 18 months to kind of take advantage of this opportunity ... The challenge is that the job market, labour market here doesn't support a lot of job growth so this is not a solution that any government can solve," he said.

"I think communities themselves have to find ways to create economic opportunities, to create job growth and to be a little bit more entrepreneurial to help people adapt to this environment at this time."  

'Keeping our options open'

In an email to CBC News, the Department of Workforce and Advanced Learning said it is working to continue to provide supports and services for the unemployed.

David Fraser is happy to have work on P.E.I. for now, but says an oil sector rebound could draw him back out West. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

"We encourage Islanders who may be returning home from out West to explore opportunities to potentially establish their own business ventures and put their skills to work. Our department is eager to provide support services to those who connect with our SkillsPEI locations seeking assistance," said the statement.

Fraser, meanwhile, feels lucky to have landed a job in construction on P.E.I., but said Alberta's energy sector could always draw his family back. 

"None of us are ones to sit idle for long, so we're looking to maybe go back out there some day if [and] when things improve," he said.

"We're just keeping our options open for now and keeping our heads down and hoping it doesn't last too long."


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