‘The party is over’ says laid-off energy worker amid Alberta job losses

CALGARY – A cratering of global oil prices is finally catching up with Alberta’s labour market: Employment in the province fell by 14,000 jobs in February, Statistics Canada announced Friday. And it was news that Calgarian Lori Forte had been expecting.

“I spent the last 30 years thinking I was going to get laid off,” said Forte, who works as a petroleum land administrator.

“My boss was great with me, and he came and got me, and he said: ‘Are you ready to take that big walk upstairs?’”

The jobless rate in Alberta shot eight tenths of point higher to 5.3 per cent—its highest level since September 2011. Last month, 7,000 energy sector workers lost their jobs.

READ MORE: Job seekers looking for an edge over the competition in Alberta

“We are going to see our unemployment rate rise I do think probably to six, six and a half per cent by the middle of the year,” said Todd Hirsch, chief economist at ATB Financial. “But I think the second half of 2015 will see an improvement.”

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Since oil prices began tanking last summer, there have been thousands of layoffs in Alberta but no hard and fast numbers. Layoffs at small and medium-sized businesses often fly under the radar, but employers must report layoffs of 50 or more people to the province.

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In the past two and a half months, Alberta’s labour department has received 36 notices of group layoffs –affecting 6,630 employees.

That’s compared to 7,900 employees in all of last year. And the province stresses not all group layoffs are reported.

While the oil industry has been hardest hit—20,000 jobs lost since last September—manufacturing, retail and wholesale have also suffered across Alberta.

“We are definitely seeing in the horizon a 2016 slowdown,” said Julie Pithers, who works for DIRTT Environmental Solutions, an exporting company that develops architectural interiors.

Some analysts suggest there will only be more cuts in the near future.

“With limited storage capacity in the States and spring break up in the northern Alberta areas, I think in April we’ll get a better sense of whether we have hit bottom or whether we’re going to see some more challenges,” said Adam Legge, CEO and president of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.

For her part, Forte thinks the challenges will continue.

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“We’ve expected this grand party with lots of money rolling in for a long time and…I don’t know…I think the party is over.”

READ MORE: Stampede tightens belt buckle in response to economic downturn

With files from Global News reporters Jamie Sturgeon, Erika Tucker and Lisa Geddes

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