EDMONTON – Alberta isn’t far away from a labour shortage worse than the one it suffered during the last boom, says the head of a provincial business group.
Figures released Friday show Alberta’s unemployment rate closed the year on a steady note at 5.6 per cent in December, unchanged from the previous month, according to figures released Friday by Statistics Canada.
But the jobless rate doesn’t tell the whole story, said Ken Kobly, president and CEO of the Alberta Chambers of Commerce, which represents 124 chambers and 22,000 businesses.
“The problem with the unemployment rates that are published on StatsCan or the Government of Alberta is they’re taken in such large census districts, they can’t tell where there is in fact currently labour shortages,” Kobly said.
Smaller urban centres such as Medicine Hat and Lethbridge are well below the provincial average, he noted. “They’re sitting at about 4.3 per cent, which is only about a half per cent off full employment.”
Lloydminster is also starting to see jobs go unfilled, he said.
“Between 2012 and 2013, we’re going to be in a labour shortage that’s going to make the last one look like a cakewalk in my opinion.” He said the economy is improving faster than expected, Alberta’s workers are aging and people who returned to other provinces may be hard to lure back.
Alberta lost 2,400 jobs in December but that was offset by 3,600 people who dropped out of the labour force.
Most of the job gains occurred in professional, scientific and technical services which added 13,300 and forestry, fishing, mining, oil and gas, which added 6,100 jobs.
Industries losing jobs included educational services at 8,800; health care and social assistance at 6,900; and finance; insurance, real estate and leasing at 4,800.
“We are watching the recent declines in employment over the past two months very closely,” said Alberta Employment and Immigration spokesman Terry Jorden.
“We don’t, however, consider it a significant trend unless it occurs over three months. Rather than looking at small changes month to month, we prefer to look at trends over 12 months. Compared to this time last year, there are 22,000 more Albertans employed.”
Alberta’s job market has improved since December 2009 when the unemployment rate was 6.6 per cent. The province added 21,100 jobs in that time and unemployment decreased by 21,900 people.
Jorden said the provincial government expects the rate is higher than it would like, but expects it to continue falling through 2011.
ATB Financial economist Dan Sumner called the province’s labour market in December “lacklustre.”
He said Alberta lost 5,500 full-time jobs and gained only 3,100 part-time positions.
“Alberta’s economy showed strong signs of life in the fourth quarter of 2010, with nearly all economic indicators pointing to the upside,” Sumner said.
“However, when it comes to employment, firms have only reluctantly added to payrolls.”
Sumner is more optimistic about Alberta’s job market in the longer term.
“Looking into 2011, with the oil sector benefiting from strong prices and the economy generally moving in the right direction, it is likely that Alberta will finally regain all the jobs that were lost to the recession.”
Edmonton’s seasonally adjusted three-month moving average unemployment rate was 5.8 per cent in December, down slightly from six per cent in November. A year ago, Edmonton’s rate hovered at 7.6 per cent.
Nationally, unemployment also remained flat from November to December at 7.6 per cent.
Canada’s job market performed somewhat better than expected last month, with gains concentrated in full-time, private-sector employment, in industrial sectors and for those younger than 25.
There were 22,000 additional people working in Canada last month, Statistics Canada said. That slightly exceeded economists’ expectations for gains of 20,000.
Most experts anticipated a surge in people looking for work would cause the unemployment rate to rise to 7.7 per cent.
The gains for December came from full-time employment, which provided jobs for 38,000 more people last month.
“Notable” gains were seen in the sectors of manufacturing, transportation and warehousing. Declines were seen in areas such as construction, health care and social assistance, wholesale and retail, and agriculture.
In fact, employment in industrial sectors such as manufacturing, and transportation and warehousing, which was up 65,700 and 44,500, respectively, were their highest gains on record and took some economists by surprise.
There were 52,500 more people working in the private sector, 7,400 more in the public sector and 38,000 fewer people self-employed.
December’s job gains were largely concentrated in the youth category, or those 15 to 24, for which 26,000 jobs were created. Statistics Canada said employment levels were largely flat among other age groups.
“This is a solid report, with more strength than meets the eye,” Douglas Porter, deputy chief economist for BMOCapital Markets, said in a research note. “In particular, the huge upturn in factory and transportation payrolls provides a tantalizing hint that the upturn in the U.S. economy is spilling over into Canada.”
Pascal Gauthier, TD Economics chief economist, noted that December was Canada’s strongest month for job gains in five months, and that the fourth-quarter monthly gains averaged 13,000, up from 6,600 in the third quarter.
“December’s headline job creation figure lines up well with our forecast for a pickup in economic growth in the fourth quarter from a lowly performance in the third quarter,” Gauthier said in a report.
Statistics Canada said that for 2010 as a whole, Canada’s job market expanded by 2.2 per cent, or 369,000 people. That compared to a decline of 1.1 per cent in 2009.
With files from Postmedia News
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