Home Month and Year April 2020 Mind the Gap

Mind the Gap

It’s the rising unemployment rate versus the hunt for skilled labour


Alberta Labour Force Statistics 2020 provides a snapshot of unemployment in Edmonton – and it’s not a pretty picture. At the time of the report Edmonton had risen from 6.4 per cent in January 2019 to 8.2 percent in January 2020. However, as a corporate writer I have the privilege of talking to many of the city’s business leaders and entrepreneurs and a common theme I hear when discussing the challenges of operations is how hard it can be to find staff. There’s a gap here. One side has a rising unemployment rate and the other side struggles to find employees. What’s going on?

Norma Schneider, vice president, teaching and learning at NorQuest College has some insights. “The impact of baby-boom retirees is not being backfilled by our current youth and immigrant populations. As a result, workforce shortages are real, and even if the economy stabilized or decreased slightly, we would be still be facing labour shortages.”

Schneider is ideally positioned to see why there is such a gap. She explains, “NorQuest works closely with our industry and government partners through our Workforce Advisory Council and Program Advisory Committees, discovering and embracing opportunities to understand current and future workforce needs. Through these mechanisms we are able to connect with over 300 employers two to three times per year. In addition, we have an Indigenous Construction Careers Centre, which is supported through a government and industry partnership.”

That’s not all. Schneider continues, “NorQuest College is an evidenced-based organization, and we rely on current and accurate research to drive our decisions when it comes to programs and content.  We recently partnered with the Conference Board of Canada and worked with the Alberta post-secondary sector and industry to identify skills gaps across key Alberta sectors: oil, gas, and mining; finance, insurance and real estate; health and medical; agriculture; renewable energy and environmental products and services; technology; and the creative and cultural sector.”

Through their research, collaboration and partnerships, NorQuest College sees fast employment opportunities in construction, childcare, health care, food services, business management, and manufacturing, and has developed programs that support students looking to make an immediate impact in these areas. Based on the data employers provided in the Building Skills Connections Series, NorQuest College projects the most notable shortages in health and human services, technologies that cross sectors such as big data and machine learning, energies including renewable energy, and different types of agriculture such as cannabis, hemp, and urban farming.

“Three themes stood out for us in building a highly skilled workforce,” Schneider says. “First, there are gaps in technical skills related to the particular occupations, which are predominantly driven by the rapid changes in technology. Second, there are gaps in business management skills, especially for entrepreneurs or in companies where they are losing their management intelligence through retirement.”

Interestingly, and rather telling of the times, she also notes, “Third, there are gaps in the area of soft skills and human skills, including adaptability, inclusivity, resiliency, curiosity, and the ability to work in teams.”

The solution, she points out, is education – and that is something at which NorQuest College excels.

“Post-secondary education works best when it’s in tune with the world around it. It’s not just about a gap between skills and employment—it’s also about making sure that NorQuest students are supported to be workforce ready through initiatives like workforce integrated learning and engagement with industry. NorQuest is very careful to tailor our programs to fill immediate and long-term careers, so whether students aspire to work in health, community studies, technology, energy, business, or any number of other fields of study, they can be confident that they will leave NorQuest ready to succeed.”

She concludes, “NorQuest students enter our doors and find a welcoming, inclusive, and diverse learning environment where they get practical, workplace-specific education. Industry likes to partner with NorQuest because our graduates add value from day one, since they have learned not only the theory, but how to apply their learning in the workplace and in the community prior to graduating. We are also in the process of infusing key human skills into our programs, so students graduate with the skills employers want—what we refer to as skills of distinction: inclusion, resilience, and new ways of thinking.”

Shannon Neighbour, partner at Svensen Neighbour Recruiting, an Edmonton-based recruitment agency that takes a personalized approach to placement, is also ideally positioned to see what’s going on in the gap.

“We have a high unemployment rate so lots of great, qualified, skilled folks are looking for work at this moment,” she agrees. “We are finding, however, that now more than ever employers are seeking candidates with a very specific set of skills and abilities. This is not the time to be a generalist it’s a time to be a specialist. Organizations are not as willing to take a chance on a candidate who does not have the exact skills the job requires. This could mean having industry experience, experience at a specific level of seniority or product knowledge. Employers are looking for candidates with strong track records and proven accomplishments.”

She also sees opportunities in certain sectors. “There is still a need for good business-to-business sales professionals (and always a need for great sellers – even more so in a down economy), digital marketers (as companies try and grow and refine their brand online and also try and keep up with the changing digital landscape) and skills/positions related to AI. AI seems to be an area that is up-and-coming as we look beyond traditional industry like oil and gas.”

With so many people looking for work, it can be hard to stand out and get your resume noticed. Svensen Neighbour Recruiting can help job seekers looking for work and employers struggling to wade through the hundreds of applicants they receive for each posting.

“We work on behalf of the employer to help them secure the best candidate for the position. We help by providing insight in to available talent in the market and offer guidance around finding the right fit for the organization not only for today in this particular economic climate, but someone who will excel and drive company objectives over the next year, 3 years, 5 years, 10 years and beyond,” confirms Neighbour.

“We also help employers by offering a variety of assessment tools that help with candidate selection and with on-boarding and better understanding of how to communicate and work effectively as a team. The assessment tools identify an individual’s communication style, motivators, competencies and emotional intelligence. Utilizing these tools can also be very helpful in mitigating bias in the recruitment process.”

For job seekers, she recommends, “Tailor your resume specifically to the position you are applying for and make it obvious to anyone reading your resume how your skills align to what the job requires. Focus on your tangible accomplishments – what quantifiable targets did you achieve? Did you work on an exciting project? Did you receive accolades or special recognition? What are you most proud of?

“Network! Network! Network! Face-to-face interaction anytime, but especially in a down market, is so valuable. It allows people to get to know you, you can showcase your interpersonal skills and it allows you to have authentic conversations that otherwise might not happen in an interview setting. This also helps with morale if you are feeling down about your job search – it gets you out of the house, interacting with other like-minded business professionals and keeps you connected to industry.

“Don’t be afraid to rely on your personal and professional network. If you know of someone who works with an organization you want to apply at, ask that individual for advice or ask for a referral.

“Be on top of new job postings. Apply quickly. Some positions are getting hundreds of applications so being an early applicant could have advantages to ensuring your resume is noticed.”

Edmonton is in a unique position where growing pains from diversifying from the energy sector, unpredictable global factors, and the rapid rise of digital technology are at play. With continued education and resources, there is hope for narrowing the gap for both employers and job seekers.