Legge: We need new solutions to solve the long-term unemployment crisis

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Alberta’s labor market is struggling, but at two very different and distinct ends of the spectrum.

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I speak every day with business leaders who cannot find staff to fill vacant positions. At the same time, there were about 50,000 people in Alberta last year who had been unemployed for over a year. That’s 50,000 households where every week for an entire year or more someone wanted to work but couldn’t find a job. Imagine a city the size of Grand Prairie without a single employee and you’ll have an idea of ​​the magnitude of the problem.

This issue is also in many ways a silent crisis, as overall Alberta’s job market has essentially “recovered” from the pandemic, and we are at similar levels of unemployment to where we were before. This is great news. Today, there are approximately 97,000 open jobs in Alberta looking for workers. Thousands of tech jobs are open. Employment in Alberta’s central energy industry is growing and will continue as the price of oil recently hit its highest level since 2014. Female employment, a key area of ​​pandemic concern, is income, although structural inequalities remain. Employers across the province are warning of labor shortages. We even see a shortage of film and theater actors and experienced crews; and as someone who oversaw the Calgary film commission, I can tell you that doesn’t happen often.

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If you have the right skills in the right place, the job market is booming and you’ll probably have no trouble finding a job. But if you’re in a tougher place, with an outdated skill set, eroded confidence, and reduced savings to invest in yourself, well, you may feel outside of that prosperity and even head towards long-term unemployment.

Long-term unemployment takes a mental toll on people, and as skills and experience become stale, it becomes more difficult to find the next job – known as labor market scarring. The hole may look like it is getting deeper and deeper.

It also means that even if the economy improves – and 2022 will be a banner year in Alberta – many long-term unemployed people will remain so. Automation and technology are already transforming the workplace. Additionally, the transition to a low-carbon future will only further disrupt Alberta’s labor market. This problem will not resolve itself.

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Thoughtful and decisive policy action is needed, and governments, businesses and post-secondary institutions all have a role to play. Here are three big ideas:

First, we need to reform employment insurance and employment programs like Jobs Now and the Canada-Alberta Job Grant to help people find jobs. I think that means paying people more employment insurance and longer if they follow a training program. This means revising programs to focus on the unemployed and offering wage subsidies. Helping someone transition into a new, long-term career off the supports will create multiple ROI.

Second, we need to increase the large-scale coverage of mental health and addictions support. Being out of work for a long time has an impact on mental health, which in turn makes it harder to get a job. Breaking this vicious circle requires taking steps such as having Alberta Blue Cross cover a greater proportion of the cost of a counseling session, and doing so for more people .

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Finally, companies also have a role to play in exploring and implementing employee transition best practices. Layoffs and changing skills requirements are a reality for companies. But forward-thinking companies have programs in place to help their employees transition into new roles, new careers, and even starting new businesses.

The longer people remain unemployed, the more likely they are to face social and economic costs. Long-term unemployment is a black hole to be in, let’s reach out and help people.

We should do it because it is right. But it’s also good business.

Adam Legge is President of the Business Council of Alberta.

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