Alberta has long been known both nationally and internationally for its booming traditional energy sector, providing plentiful and high-paying employment opportunities for youth in the province. In fact, over the last several decades, Alberta was attracting young adults to move to the province from across the country for lucrative employment opportunities, many without the long academic commitment typically required for high-paying work. This led to a longstanding net gain of young talent in the province, a clear advantage that helped drive Alberta’s economic engine.
In 2016, however, for the first time since 1988, Alberta welcomed fewer young newcomers than were leaving — a net loss. Over the next five years, an average of 1,133 young adults per year migrated away from Alberta.
But, despite this province-wide decline, the Edmonton Metropolitan Region is actually bucking the trend.
According to a recent report released by the Canada West Foundation, Alberta Youth Mobility Report, while the province as a whole is seeing a decline in young talent, the Edmonton region’s migration rate for youth 15-34 is actually still growing – 2.3% in the past five years; Edmonton has the second-fastest growing population of young workers in Alberta, next to Lethbridge.
Additionally, the Edmonton region’s overall population grew 9.8% since 2015, leading the province in total immigration. So, while most areas are declining or static, the Edmonton region is comparatively seeing promising growth. The report states that “overall, Alberta will continue to grow at a pace above the national average” and, while it is normal to expect younger people to move away as they find their own way in life, the Edmonton region can equally expect to attract youth from other areas of the country and internationally.
The growth rate in the Edmonton region reveals that many young people see the region for what it really is — a vibrant, affordable, and progressive place full of exciting opportunities and experiences. The reality of what is happening here challenges some common perceptions, giving the Edmonton region a chance to change the narrative on the opportunities that exist for young people.
The notion that “Alberta’s leading industry is oil and gas” still sticks, but the weight of this promise for prosperity in the industry no longer resonates with many young Albertans. Many young people are not motivated purely by the lucrative pay cheque that the traditional energy sector once offered. This demographic, a mix of Generation Z and Millennial, value sustainability, environment, and work-life-balance. But according to Canada West Foundation’s policy brief, What Now? Oh, the places youth could go!, overall perceptions among youth in Alberta is that its economy is still strongly driven by the traditional energy sector.
These perceptions fuel the belief among many young people that the right opportunities for them exist elsewhere. However, the report also suggests that much of this thinking is driven by a lack of awareness of the opportunities that exist.
Really, traditional energy accounts for only 4% of job vacancies and 6.2% of the province’s total employment. Alberta’s economy is rapidly changing and diversifying into alternative industries — and much of this activity is happening in the Edmonton region.
Canada West identified several emerging sectors that are driving this change:
In fact, Alberta is estimated to become the national leader in the adoption of renewable energy by 2023. And the Edmonton region is driving Canada’s emerging hydrogen economy, a key part of our transition to net-zero. The promise for prosperity that traditional energy has afforded young Albertans is still present — it just shifted.
Janet Lane, director of the Human Capital Centre at the Canada West Foundation, spoke with Edmonton Global on the Economic Development Matters podcast. She explained how their perception and values could be influencing young people. “Their perception, although not necessarily reality, is what’s driving the youth,” said Lane. “Oil and gas has changed. It’s not their grandparents’ oil and gas,” she added. “We are moving into clean and green energy… we are not telling these stories well enough.”
To attract more young professionals into the region, it’s important that we start to shift the narrative to address these misperceptions. Because the opportunities are here.
Malcolm Bruce, CEO of Edmonton Global says that one way the Edmonton region will achieve this is by uniting our region behind a shared vision. “To radically transform and grow our economy, as well as attract and nurture the incredible young talent here, we need to think, act, and speak as a unified region,” says Bruce. “At the end of this month, the forward/slash Economic Summit will unite the Edmonton Metropolitan Region behind a common vision and will move the community to action.”
On September 28th, Edmonton Global along with 40+ partnering organizations in the Edmonton region will host the inaugural forward/slash Economic Summit, bringing leaders from across the region together. This will be the beginning of a movement to build towards a thriving future purposefully, proactively, and inclusively for our region’s economy.
Taking place at the Edmonton Convention Centre, the evening will include networking, a dinner reception, live entertainment, interactive displays, and a formal stage program featuring industry leaders and experts highlighting our region’s strongest sectors. To learn more and become involved in the forward/slash Economic Summit, visit www.forwardslashyeg.ca.
“forward/slash is a recognition that transformative change requires collective action,” says Malcolm. “There’s a lot of opportunity here in the Edmonton region. We just need to all be rowing in the same direction,” he added. “This is the first step – now that we know where we are going, there is no doubt that we can get there together.”