Job seekers getting desperate

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Sydney Chamzuk, who has avoided the massive job losses in the oil and gas industry, is “one of the lucky ones.”

Although his hours have been cut, he has managed to hold on to his field supervisor job at Ensign Energy.

His position could easily have been affected given the persistent slowdown of Alberta’s energy sector. His department rents matting equipment, used by oil and gas companies when drilling or laying down pipelines in difficult terrain.

Many of his friends were not as fortunate.

Since oil prices started to dip in January of last year, Alberta’s unemployment rate has climbed steadily to 7.4 per cent in January 2016, up from 4.6 per cent. It is estimated that around 35,000 jobs have been lost due to cuts in the energy sector.

Edmonton’s jobless population sits slightly below the provincial average at 6.2 per cent, but those in and around the city are starting to feel the crunch.

In January, use of the St. Albert Public Library Career Resource Centre was up 11 per cent compared to the same time last year, with more than 800 job-search-related logins.

While December is traditionally a slow month for the centre, adult services co-ordinator Sheila Drummond indicated that October and November had seen a 20 per cent increase in use compared to those months last year.

A recent addition to the Town of Morinville, Chamzuk is a member of Oil Dads, a Facebook group that provides support to those affected by low oil prices and massive cuts to the oil and gas industry.

He said the situation is getting so desperate for some that they have started taking anything they can get.

Matt Juniper, a former foreman and picker truck operator in Red Earth, put out upwards of 150 resumes over 11 months before landing a job in the oil and distribution field in Edmonton. Although it’s below his trade rate – he now has credentials for pipefitting as well – he is thankful to have found something.

“I was applying at the International (airport) for security. I was applying anywhere that I could potentially be able to have a wage where I could pay the bills,” said Juniper, who resides in Westlock.

The City of St. Albert is seeing that firsthand. It has experienced higher than usual levels of interest in its public works and administration job postings over the past few months.

“There are some positions where we’re still struggling to find applicants. Those are positions that have specific technical skills that we’re looking for,” said Karen Sillito, manager of human resources. “There are others where the skills and experience are a bit broader, such as transit, cleaning buses or casual labourers, and there we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of applicants.”

One such job posting, for a job cleaning buses at the city’s transit warehouse, received upwards of 170 applications.

Pro-Western Plastics, a plastic injection moulding company based in Riel Park, reported an unusual number of applications received between external postings.

“I typically post jobs in the Gazette and with My Job Finder … I’m still seeing a high number of applicants applying for our positions,” said human resources administrator Kaylee Gallant.

Within the last year she has also noticed an increase in applicants with a construction or oil and gas background applying for these lesser skilled positions.

But it’s not just those in the energy sector that are being affected. Drummond said she has noticed a greater variety of workers searching for employment at the career centre.

“Initially with the downturn in the economy and the price of oil some months ago it seemed to be contained to that sector, but now it seems to be broader than that,” she said.

She’s also witnessed more and more people filing EI claims.

Chamzuk said it can be hard for those employed in a skilled trade, especially in oil and gas, to find something else. Not only are opportunities slim, but these individuals often have a very specific subset of knowledge and skills and often have higher mortgages and other expenses.

If put in that position, Chamzuk thinks he would leave the province or the country or search for something in the logging industry.

“At least it’s still doing well,” he said.

Job bootcamp

The St. Albert Public Library will be hosting a job bootcamp on Saturday. Put on by Alberta Works the event will take place between 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. No registration is required. Attendees will move between stations to learn more about writing resumes, how to make a good first impression, how to prepare for job fair, how to access the hidden job market, and so on.

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Michelle Ferguson