Alberta has set a record in Ca anada by having the lowest urban and provincial unemployment rates in the country according to Statistics Canada. The province has set the record with its 3.3 per cent jobless rate as Alberta’s additions to the employed far outweighed growth in both the population and the labour force and brought Alberta’s employment rate to an incredible high at 72.1 per cent.
Statistics Canada shows that Ponoka’s unemployment rate is just 3.4 per cent which can be attributed to its strong job creation.
Though this number is at a low, Michelle Stirling, employment counselor at Ponoka Employment Services, has seen a change in the Ponoka economy and believes that another change may soon be seen again.
“In my view, Ponoka originally had a rather stable local workforce and was strongly based in agriculture and local retail. Today many people live in Ponoka and work away,” said Stirling. “Until the recent rise in the price of gas, it was often worth it to work out of town because the salaries were often higher and the scope of opportunity much larger. Consequently, it became hard to find or keep employees as they sought ‘greener pastures’. However, I anticipate that the rising prices of gas and food may cause people to settle for a lower paying job in town where their costs of commuting would be low, and they get the benefit of a better work/life balance.”
Stirling believes that Ponoka has a stable economy and that a part of that success is because of the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury and the oil and gas industry.
“Over the years Ponoka’s economic base has diversified from being primarily mental health services to incorporate quite a diversified industrial sector,” said Stirling. “Much of the industrial sector is oil/gas related, so with the recent boom, that area of employment and related support services has also grown locally.”
Although Stirling commends the contributions of the Centennial Centre and oil and gas industry, she believes that the farms and producers are the base of Ponoka.
“We should not ignore the vast agricultural industry that has always been the mainstay of Ponoka,” she said. “Much of that work is highly mechanized and requires a smaller labour pool than it did decades ago. But that small labour pool is the most critical to our long-term survival and fitness.”
Stirling is grateful for the contributions of the agricultural industry and thinks that it is crucial to have farmers as part of the economy.
“The most important thing, particularly in this time of world food shortages, is that we remember how important our farmers are and that we continue to honor and support that hardworking lifestyle,” she said. “While I am amazed at the technological advances in the oil sands, and impressed by the hard-working crews of the oil patch, nobody beats the dedication, ingenuity and importance of a farmer in my eyes. Remember, you can’t eat oil.”
For Alberta, Stirling sees the impact of the oil sands on the province and trusts that the industry will be thriving for years to come. Stirling believes that the oil sands have done a major part in bringing the unemployment rate down in Alberta.
“Alberta’s oil sands are the driver of some 30 per cent of the economy in Canada,” she said. “I doubt that will change over the next decade as there’s $100 billion worth of investment slated for the Alberta oil sands.”
The oil sands not only just employ workers that are directly involved in the business but also encompass a large range of other businesses and people to help keep the industry on its feet.
“There’s been a huge influx of workers to Alberta to work the oil sands, and along with that they bring their personal and family needs of every kind – from needing vehicles to housing, to food services, retail outlets – and each of those businesses also needs workers,” said Stirling. “So in a way it is like a whirlwind that gathers up more strength and pulls in more and more as it moves along.”
The industry has also been partially responsible for the boom Alberta has been experiencing, which has been both a positive and negative happening. It has created many jobs but the speed at which the economy has been taking off may be too fast and sometimes might outrun Albertans.
The province’s low unemployment rates appear not to be threatened in the future and the increasing move of people into Alberta will maintain the province’s low jobless rate.
“I am sure the province of Alberta will maintain low unemployment rates for some time to come,” said Stirling. “In addition to the influx of new people to the province, there is also a large market of retiring ‘baby boomers’. Even if skilled workers move to the province, it will be hard to replace the experience those retirees take with them, so there is a push to keep retiring workers on staff – even part-time.”
The tight labour market has helped to lift average hourly wages in Alberta to the highest of any other province in Canada at $23.39 an hour. Wages across the province are rising as well but remain at a much lower level.