BANFF – It appears to be quiet on the labour market front in the Bow Valley.
But that could soon change as the busy winter season starts to take hold and Christmas approaches.
“Right now we do have a bit of a shoulder season,” said Michel Dufresne, director of the Job Resource Centre (JRC). “It is kind of quiet in terms of demand for workers. It has gone down for the summer.”
The latest labour market review for the Bow Valley shows there were 2,262 job orders from 436 Bow Valley employers with the JRC from February to July 2022. This was an increase of 13 per cent over the previous year.
The unemployment rate for July 2022 in the Banff-Jasper-Rocky Mountain House region was 5.4 per cent, an improvement from 8.2 per cent in July 2021. This is higher than the provincial average of 4.8 per cent, but it is a misleading statistic for the Bow Valley.
“The labour region is very large,” Dufresne said. “It includes us, and Jasper, Rocky Mountain House and all the way up to Grande Prairie. It isn’t really Banff-Canmore, so we keep that in mind.”
One of the biggest issues for employment in the Bow Valley continues to be housing. Not only is housing hard to come by, it is very expensive compared to other regions of Alberta.
Only 42 per cent of jobs posted from February to July at the Job Resource Centre advertised with staff housing. Of those, 53 per cent of Banff jobs came with staff housing, while only 24 per cent of Canmore jobs did.
“We got to a point in the summer – July and August – where all staff accommodation was spoken for. That makes it harder to process or to attract or recruit entry level workers,” Dufresne said. “The housing market outside the staff accommodation was super tight and super expensive.”
A one-bedroom in Banff costs on average $1,757, while Canmore is higher at $1,824. For a two bedroom, Banff costs on average $2,330, while Canmore costs $2,733.
“That is just not manageable for a person, and [the rentals] were non-existent.”
The past six months have seen a lingering impact of the pandemic a shrinking labour force from retirements. A lot of people retired during the pandemic, which did not impact businesses because demand was slow. When businesses re-opened, they suddenly had two years of retirements to deal with.
“All the retiring people at the top opened up half a million jobs,” Dufresne said. “So, people moved up to those positions. The same thing happened at the middle and it left a void at the entry level.”
Another problem created by the pandemic was a loss of word of mouth advertising for the Bow Valley. In years past, people from Ontario, Quebec and Australia were recruited. They would return home after a season working and skiing and discuss their experiences with friends, who then came to the area the following year.
“That word of mouth was gone for two years,” Dufresne said. “That is a factor. We lost a marketing tool.”
Despite the slow work environment, Dufresne sees improvement on the horizon. At one point, the Job Resource Centre saw 80 people a day, then it went down to ten, but has now rebounded to 30.
“We are going back up in the right direction,” Dufresne said.
As well, the recent winter hiring fair saw 225 people. While this is down from the 700 seen three years ago, it still helped employers find workers.
“We don’t think we will see 700 again,” Dufresne said. “Employers were telling us they had all the people they needed for the start of winter.”