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Alberta government says new job program will focus on local workers

Feds and Alberta launch local hiring program
WATCH ABOVE: In March, 20,000 new full-time jobs were created in Alberta. Now, the federal and provincial governments want to ensure it's Albertans who are being hired. Tom Vernon explains.

The province and the federal government have teamed up to create a job program to encourage companies to hire skilled Albertan workers in 29 specific sectors.

Alberta Labour Minister Christina Gray told a news conference at NAIT Wednesday, foreign workers will be refused in these 29 high-wage occupations where it’s determined there are enough out-of-work Albertans to meet demand.

“By looking at our employment insurance breakdown, what’s happening with unemployment numbers and the number of job postings in the job bank, we saw an opportunity to see Albertans hired in these positions where temporary foreign workers had been placed.”

READ MORE: Albertans armed with resumes line up for career fair in Edmonton 

The numbers began to trend differently about two years ago with a “shift” of worker supply.

“We can see where we have a high number of unemployed Albertans in a particular job category looking for work.”

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The 29 coded job descriptions range from office work in construction, to engineering, and the trades.

READ MORE: Alberta’s unemployment rate hits levels not seen since 1990s 

Work can be had, said Chris Ambrozic with the Alberta Construction Association, now that the economy is starting to come around.

“I would say 24 months ago, there was a significant reduction in the amount of applications into the temporary foreign worker program, just due to the economic downturn,” he said.

“We’re seeing opportunity in infrastructure work, we’re seeing opportunity in the specialty work related to restoration repairs, people trying to upgrade their buildings.”

This pilot project will last 24 months, and the categories of jobs will be reviewed every three months, Gray said. The data will be shared with the federal government. A new employer liaison office will be set up to link employers with out-of-work Albertans.

“We’ll be following the progress of the pilot very closely and all of that data will help inform us, but we are certainly open to replicating it if it shows success in Alberta,” said Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Minister Patricia Hadju.

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The timing of the announcement is a bit ironic for Edmonton-Riverbend MP Matt Jeneroux.

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“It’s a bit rich to see both the provincial NDP and the federal Liberals announce a program to support jobs after what they’ve done to implement a carbon tax,” Matt Jeneroux said. “It’s made investors look elsewhere for months.

“(I) definitely welcome the investment, it was certainly something that we had identified – the temporary foreign worker program – in our Alberta Jobs Task Force. It was something that we’ve been pushing for from the Conservative side of the house but again, if they’re really serious about creating jobs in Alberta, they would abandon this carbon tax that just seems to be driving investors away in droves.”

Alberta’s unemployment rate sits at 8.4 per cent, which is down from late 2016 when it reached a high of nine per cent in November, but there are still 100,000 Albertans collecting Employment Insurance.

The national unemployment rate is 6.7 per cent.

—With files from Global News