“Help wanted” has again become a common sight in windowsills and online job boards across Alberta, reversing employment woes for thousands. In 2011, the province, through it’s Alberta Works Program, delivered hundreds of work programs to help cash-strapped employers connect to skilled workers.

“Employers are coming to us asking for help to fill dozens, even hundreds, of open positions,” says Brenda Wadey, a business and industry liaison officer with the Alberta government. “We have moved our career services into the online world this year with two province-wide virtual job fairs, one of which attracted 12 employers and more than 1,300 job seekers.”

Joy Cooney, district manager for Canadian retailer Bentley, regularly partners with the province to fill an influx of new positions. Cooney says the province understands the company’s unique hiring needs and has connected her with a pool of skilled talent. 

“Alberta Human Services has really stepped up to help us with our hiring needs,” she says. “The labour market is getting tighter and tighter and the more avenues we have to fill our positions, the better. The hiring experience has been phenomenal.”

Wadey says requests like this are a far cry from the labour market needs of 2009. At the height of the recession, Business and Industry Liaisons (BIL) – initially tasked with helping employers meet labour force shortages and support hiring needs – had to turn its attention to businesses facing downsizing brought on by economic pressures.

Responding to 500 job cuts at a southern Alberta company, BIL manager Cheryl Olenick had to mobilize within a week to provide workforce adjustment sessions and a hiring event for the affected workers.   

“Overnight, the coin flipped. All of a sudden, we were in an employment shortage position and no longer a worker shortage position,” says Olenick. “It required extreme adaptability, but at the end of the day we were providing the right service at the right time.”

Steve MacDonald, deputy minister of Alberta Human Services, agrees that adaptability and responsiveness are the hallmarks of excellent service delivery. “To be effective and provide meaningful services to Albertans, we need to be responsive and continuously evaluating what our clients need, and deliver accordingly.”

Over the past year, Alberta has led the country in employment growth, adding nearly 100,000 jobs, more than four times the national rate of 1.1 percent. It has now regained all of the jobs it lost during the recession and is again facing the possibility of labour shortages. Alberta Human Services projects the province will be short 114,000 workers within a decade and is taking action to reduce the impact of anticipated labour shortages. 

In addition to ramping up hiring support for employers, the department is developing a Youth Workforce Strategy to engage younger workers and help them take advantage of exciting new career opportunities.

The Youth Workforce Strategy is part of the department’s 10-year labour force strategy, Building and Educating Tomorrow’s Workforce, which aims to attract more workers to Alberta and train Albertans for the careers that will be in demand in the future. A core element of the strategy is tapping into traditionally under-utilized pools of labour, including Aboriginals, immigrants, persons with disabilities, mature workers and youth. The department has already released a Mature Worker Action Plan and is currently developing strategies for Aboriginals and youth.

Alberta Human Services is also attracting more Albertans into high-demand occupations by publishing short-term and long-term labour market outlooks. The department recently released the Short Term Employment Forecast 2011-2013, spotlighting 64 occupations that will be in demand over the next two years, to attract more Albertans into these careers.

The Alberta government is also responding to increasing recruitment needs by hosting career discovery events that profile careers in expanding sectors like trades and technology, supply chain and logistics, hospitality, health care and more.

Albertans can also now use Facebook and Twitter to find job opportunities and job fairs, watch videos on resume and job-interview tips, post free job ads, and interact with Alberta government staff for a personalized service delivery experience. 

“As our client’s needs change, so will we,” says MacDonald. “Our response will include trying new and innovative approaches to fit the need.”


Briar McGinnis is a regional communications manager with Alberta Human Services in Calgary. Links to Alberta Works social media sites are available at http://employment.alberta.ca.