More people are working in Calgary than ever, and yet the unemployment rate is on the rise

A stampede of people to Alberta has seen Calgary reach record levels of employment — and surging levels of unemployment — at the same time. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC - image credit)
A stampede of people to Alberta has seen Calgary reach record levels of employment — and surging levels of unemployment — at the same time. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC - image credit)

The huge influx of newcomers to Alberta has helped drive the job market in Calgary into strange territory, with the city seeing record levels of employment and surging levels of unemployment at the same time.

The unemployment rate shot up to 6.5 per cent in March, up 0.4 percentage points from the month before. The increase was driven not by a loss of jobs but rather the sheer growth in people looking for work.

An estimated 64,500 people in the Calgary metropolitan area were looking for work, according to the latest data from Statistics Canada, which is the most the city has seen in nearly two years.

At the same time, the number of people working grew to 931,600, which is the most the city has seen — ever.

"There's no doubt about it: there's a dramatic influx of additional people entering into the job market here," said Cristina Schultz with About Staffing, a Calgary-based recruitment and employment agency.

One thing she's been seeing "over and over" lately is people moving to Calgary primarily because they see it as more affordable than other major cities, even if they don't have a formal job offer lined up.

"Cost of living in Calgary is the No. 1 driving factor that brings people here to entertain the [job] markets," she said.

"More often than not we are seeing that people are taking the leap of faith and making the move and looking for a job once they've landed."

The number of people not in the labour force (that is, neither working nor looking for work) has also been on the decline; it's fallen every month so far in 2024.

Alicia Planincic, an economist with the Business Council of Alberta, said the province has an attractive mix of both "housing affordability and job opportunity" at the moment, which has helped attract newcomers, particularly from more expensive housing markets in Ontario and British Columbia.

(While home prices have soared in Calgary recently, they still remain well below what people are paying in the greater Vancouver and greater Toronto areas.)

Numerous industries in Alberta are eager to hire new workers, she noted, which makes the move easier for those with the right skills.

"Construction has one of the highest job vacancy rates in Alberta — way higher than the national average," Planincic told CBC's Alberta@Noon.

"And a part of that is because of so many folks moving here, which is driving greater demand for housing and so builders are trying to respond to that."

The council published a report this week showing "Alberta was the only major province where employment growth in the private sector was greater than in the public sector" over the past year.

"Private sector employment growth in Alberta over that period was five times greater than the national average," the report noted.

Increased competition for jobs

The flip side is that there is growing competition for jobs among those seeking employment, which can make the hunt even more challenging for longtime Calgary residents.

"It is certainly more competitive," Schultz said

"The candidate pool that you historically would be up against, as a resident, has two to three times the amount of applicants — people who are coming from out of province or out of country — and they do bring different skill sets and different education and different backgrounds."

While there are ups and downs in any given month, the job vacancy rate in Alberta has been generally trending downward for the past couple of years, as the population has grown.

That suggests it's getting harder for unemployed people to find work but also that employers are finding the people they need to fill positions.

On the whole, Schultz sees the recent labour-market trends as positive for the city.

"There are more jobs. There are more people who fit in those jobs. That's good news," she said.