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One-third of Fort McMurray employers facing labour shortage: report

August 9, 2021
The Canadian Press

By Scott McLean, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter


A report predicts employment in Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo could grow by nearly 15,000 jobs by 2025. But for now, 33 per cent of employers surveyed for the report are reporting a shortage in skilled and non-skilled labour.

The report, which was commissioned for Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo Economic Development and Tourism (FMWBEDT), predicts there could be more than 93,000 jobs locally by 2025 from 78,808 today. The report’s worst-case scenario is a loss of 79 jobs for the region. A mid-level prediction is 6,000 new jobs in five years.

These predictions include the COVID-19 pandemic recovery, although the report’s authors acknowledge the next five years carry political, economic and social uncertainty that could impact the region.


“This really is a document that is a tool for everyone,” said Lisa Sweet, FMWBEDT director of business investment and attraction. “There might also be organizations that were not involved in this study that might want to take a lead in certain areas as well. But the first strategy under labour market information and maintaining current regional market information is something that our organization will be doing moving forward.”

The report was authored by Applications Management Consulting Ltd. in partnership with Willow Springs Solutions, and included FMWBEDT, the Athabasca Tribal Council and Fuse Social. Researchers surveyed 245 local employers, interviewed 20 stakeholders and held 10 virtual discussion groups. They also found 3,112 vacancies in the region.

The highest vacancies were found in the food service sector, with a 19.3 per cent of positions unfilled, followed by information and cultural sector with 13.1 per cent. Of the employers struggling to hire people, 31 per cent said they had recruitment plans.

The hardest jobs to fill include cooks, construction trades’ helpers and labourers, light duty cleaners, food counter and kitchen staff, and crane operators. The jobs with high rates of people quitting include petroleum, gas and chemical process operators; security guards; heavy equipment operators and truck drivers. The report states many of those same jobs will be in demand in 2025.

Even during an economic crisis, 28 per cent of employers reported people voluntarily leaving within the past 12 months. Employers argued they had trouble getting people to come to the region, particularly rural areas. Other factors include getting people who were on CERB to return to work, competition with larger employers, the loss of Northern Living Allowances in some fields, and a shortage of skilled child-care workers.

“We are working on a job fair for September,” said Dianna de Sousa, executive director for the Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce, to address the gaps. “Based on requests from a number of our members we are going to be working with them on job descriptions. (The job fair) will be blended, both virtually and in-person.”

The authors recommended two strategies moving forward for the region; maintain a labour market committee and define shared goals among regional stakeholders.

“Understanding labour patterns and trends is essential to remaining competitive in an economy and labour market with changing demographics, training demands and technological advances,” said Kevin Weidlich, president and CEO of FMWBEDT, in a statement. “The labour market conditions identified are a reflection of this point in time, as market conditions evolve, the report’s strategies and priorities may shift.”

With reporting from Vincent McDermott

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