Alberta’s job market surprises on the upside in April

THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX:  The worst case doom-and-gloom scenarios for Alberta’s job market are looking less and less probable.

Despite a slowdown in economic activity this year, Alberta’s job market posted a surprisingly strong gain last month. According to the latest Labour Force Survey, total employment increased by 12,500 jobs in April. That, along with the small increase in March, was enough to offset the big drop in February.

However, peeling back the layers of data we see that the high level gain in employment is a bit deceiving. The new jobs were all part-time positions, which increased by 20,100. That was met by a loss of 7,500 full-time jobs.

There were unsurprising losses in the sectors that are weakest at the moment: oil and gas (-3,500), construction (-3,800) and manufacturing (-2,500) all shed workers. There were gains, however, in the category of “professional, scientific and technical services”, which added 5,500 jobs. That is a bit of a mystery, as these energy-related services are down nearly 8,000 since the beginning of the year. The sharp rebound may be the beginning of a trend toward self-employment in this category—professional engineers and geologists, for example, now working as part-time consultants in the industry.

Alberta’s unemployment rate remained unchanged at 5.5 per cent in April as the new jobs were matched by an increase of people in the labour force.

Looking forward, we still anticipate more job losses as companies adjust to slower market conditions. But given that oil prices have firmed up a bit—particularly for the Western Canadian select blend benchmark price—the worst case doom-and-gloom scenarios for Alberta’s job market are looking less and less probable.

Todd Hirsch • Chief Economist       May 8, 2015

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