An employment shortage of 49,000 workers is expected when older Albertans retire in the next 10-15 years, according to Alberta’s Labour Market Highlights for 2017. Nowhere is this gap being felt more than in oil and gas, where there appears to be a shortfall greater than just the number of workers.
This is not news in the province, which published a 2009 report that said that government, industry and educational institutions need to work together to reduce the problem.
The issue is not just about the amount of bodies available to fill positions, but in the experience and qualifications younger workers may not have.
“You get a person with 25, 30 years of experience (in oil and gas), you can’t replace them on a dime – you have to train these people,” said Victor Swiredowski, an ex-owner of a pipeline locating company.
Swiredowski believes a skill gap partially exists because older oil field workers are often fearful of being made obsolete – making them resistant to properly training the young Albertans expected to takeover their roles.
The government has acknowledged these coming skill gaps.
The 2009 study also outlines that the province will need to “keep people in the labour force longer and provide an adequate supply of young workers with needed skill sets.”
The report says that just over a third of workers in 2026 will be 65 and older.
In 2017, there were jus t over 140,000 oil and gas workers with about 36 per cent aged 45 and older. This figure likely contributes to the projections that Albertan’s working age population will drop from 72 per cent in 2017 to 64 per cent in the coming decade.
In 2017, 15-to-24-year-olds made up just over five per cent of oil and gas employees. And most of them are choosing post-secondary education over immediately entering the workforce.
Alberta workers with a post-secondary certificate or university degree grew from 54 per cent in 2007 to 63 per cent in 2017.
Kalem Michaud, a second-year electrician, chose a trade that required post-secondary education and believes many other young Albertans have as well instead of waiting and working.
“A lot of young people work these jobs until they figure out what they want to do … this may be why there aren’t a lot of people entering the trades,” said Michaud.
However, a recent report on the oil and gas industry says the sector ranks in the top three for expected employment growth in the next four years – likely from this industry’s aging population.
Despite all the doom and gloom, a common sentiment is that this industry may become more competitive due to oil and gas beginning to downsize and jobs being phased out with many workers.
The opportunity for more competition could provide employers a wider variety of highly-qualified candidates. And with fewer available positions, education may give younger workers an upper hand.
This can be seen in the 2009 study, which said that between 2015 and 2025, the quality of labour supply in Alberta is expected to improve further based on the forecasted overall level of educational attainment.
“I think this will be a good opportunity for Alberta’s oil and gas to fix some of the issues they have had in the past and for the next generation to make some much needed changes,” said Swiredowski.
– Jory Proft