Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk speaks about the province’s forecasted labour shortage at the Alberta Human Resources Conference in Edmonton on Wednesday.
Photograph by: Brian Gavriloff, Edmonton Journal
EDMONTON - Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk says Alberta is headed into a perfect storm of conditions that will result in a shortfall of more than 77,000 workers within the next decade.
Lukaszuk says the province’s low birthrate, burgeoning economy and anticipated baby boomer retirements will result in a labour shortage that will affect all businesses if ways are not found to keep “mature workers” — over age 55 — working longer.
“We’re walking into a perfect storm. (The year) 2011 is the first year in which officially baby boomers are turning 65, so we’re looking at a large exodus of workers — not only in numbers, but in experience,” he told reporters after releasing the province’s aging workforce strategy before 800 delegates at a human resources conference at Edmonton’s Shaw Conference Centre on Wednesday.
He said most employers do not have programs to encourage mature workers to continue working and the province has work to do to educate them about the approaching crisis.
The Alberta government has been working for the past three years on a strategy to support older workers, encourage more flexible hours and remove disincentives from working into retirement.
Lukaszuk said that if more workers can be convinced to work longer, that will boost workforce numbers by 40,000 to partially offset the coming shortfall.
But he conceded that current social security and taxation programs must be changed to make working into retirement years more lucrative.
Alberta is not proposing any new legislation in the short term, but Lukaszuk said his department will review current laws to determine whether changes can be made to allow workers to collect benefits while continuing to work.
The province will also work with Ottawa to make sure that its tax policies are not punitive, he said.
The announcement won accolades from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, but drew darts from the NDP and the head of the 140,000-member Alberta Federation of Labour.
“If the minister is talking about providing incentives and supports to people who voluntarily choose to work longer, that’s one thing, but if he is talking about forcing people to work past retirement against their will, he will have a war on his hands because Albertans are simply not going to take kindly to having their retirement dreams undermined and taken away,” said AFL president Gil McGowan.
“They have rushed forth with this strategy, but they haven’t talked to the people they should be talking to, and that’s working Albertans, most of whom look forward to their retirement.”
NDP MLA Rachel Notley called the policy the province’s chain-workers-to-their-desks strategy. She expressed concern that in the process of trying to make employer retirement programs more flexible to enable workers to stay longer, the retirement regime will be undermined.
“My concern is their efforts to negotiate with industry will result in a reduction of supports for retirement as an incentive to keep older workers in the workplace,” she said.
The Conference Board of Canada has predicted that nationally by 2015, there will be not enough qualified people to fill all positions vacated by mature employees, but the situation will be more acute in Alberta, where mature workers already make up 16 per cent of the workforce.
The Alberta strategy, called Engaging the Mature Worker, says economic growth in the province will be constrained by the exodus of postwar babies from the workforce, mostly between 2014 and 2028.
It calls on employers to consider reducing hours and responsibilities of older workers, moving some to part-time work, recalling retirees at busy times, redesigning their jobs, using their skills for mentoring and enlisting them in training.
- The number of workers aged 55 and over in Alberta doubled from 167,000 to 337,000 between 2000 and 2010.
- More than 17,400 Alberta workers retired last year and 190,000 are expected to retire over the next decade.
- More than 16.5 per cent of Albertans continue to work past age 65 compared to the national average of 10.5 per cent.