Home Regular Contributors David MacLean Alberta Manufacturers Will Soon Face Labour Challenges

Alberta Manufacturers Will Soon Face Labour Challenges

David McLean

The Alberta manufacturing sector may have shed jobs since the oil price crash and in the face of a global pandemic – but attraction and retention of skilled labour continues to be a major challenge for the sector. Manufacturers hoping to succeed will need to put their shoulders into building resilient teams with the skills needed to push the company forward.

Over the past year Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME), in partnership with Alberta Labour and Immigration, surveyed Alberta manufacturers to build a comprehensive understanding of the province’s heavy industry workforce, including a detailed occupational profile as well as identifying common challenges and strategies related to recruitment, training and development, and diversity and inclusion.

Alberta’s heavy manufacturing industry includes the following seven industries: meat and dairy product manufacturing, paper manufacturing, petroleum and coal product manufacturing, chemical manufacturing, non-metallic mineral product manufacturing, primary metal manufacturing, and fabricated metal product manufacturing. These sectors account for 64 per cent of Alberta’s manufacturing GDP.

Heavy industry manufacturers have laid off a significant number of workers in recent years. In 2020, employment tumbled by 10.9 per cent to 51,900, the lowest level since 2004. However, survey participants expect to add workers to their payrolls over the near term, another sign that the industry will see better days ahead. Specifically, 38 per cent of responding companies expect to increase employment over the next 12 months, while only 15 per cent expect to reduce employment over the same period.

In addition, if Alberta heavy industry manufacturers have identified skills gaps among their workforce, many are working to address the problem. Some 77 per cent of respondents said that their company has implemented measures to overcome the problem of skills gaps, including providing training, while only 8 per cent said they have not done so.

While labour and skills shortages may not be a major issue now, they are expected to intensify in the coming years as the economy rebounds and as large numbers of Baby Boomers exit the workforce. And, although businesses have some ability to mitigate labour and skills shortages, there is only so much they can do. Instead, the nature of this problem requires governments to take the lead on this economy-wide issue. When asked what policymakers should do to address this looming challenge, respondents said they are looking for governments to offer stronger incentives for companies to invest in automation, find better ways to attract people to smaller communities, provide tax incentives to hire new workers, offer financial support to help cover worker training expenses, and help to promote manufacturing jobs to youth.

A skilled and diverse workforce is essential for future manufacturing growth. Manufacturers need to up their game when it comes to recruitment and training – including attracting workers from non-traditional areas. Governments also play a role and can help with some creative policies including introducing a worker training tax credit and tweaking post secondary education to expose more young people to manufacturing careers.


Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) is the voice of Canadian manufacturing. CME represents more than 2,500 companies who account for an estimated 82 per cent of manufacturing output and 90 per cent of Canada’s exports.