Initiative aims to determine what it will take to keep young people from leaving Calgary

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WATCH: A new study is looking into how big the threat of an exodus of young talent is in Calgary and what can be done to stop it. Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports – Mar 8, 2021

A community initiative is aiming to find out what it will take to keep young people from leaving Calgary.

Why Calgary is a project facilitated by the Institute for Community Prosperity’s CityXLab at Mount Royal University that is also looking for data to determine if there is a trend of young adults leaving — or considering leaving — Calgary.

The project started in November of last year and consisted of four teams of graduating Mount Royal University students who prepared reports exploring the issues.

Kennedy Lukey is a contributor to Why Calgary. The 23-year-old graduated from Mount Royal University last year and landed a marketing job at Chaordix, a Calgary software company.

“They brought me on full-time, which was really exciting and definitely eased some nerves,” Lukey said.

“With just graduating, it’s scary not knowing if you’re going to be able to find work.”

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While Lukey plans to stay in Calgary, some of her former classmates don’t see a future in the city.

The students are also looking into how big a role perception plays. The reports indicated that perception can be the biggest driver of young people leaving.

Read more: Alberta’s jobless rate drops to 10.7 per cent in January

“One of the challenges in any city — and I would argue in Alberta and certainly in Calgary — is complacency,” said David Finch, a professor at Mount Royal University and a senior fellow at the Institute for Community Prosperity.

Finch said more work still needs to be done to collect data about the numbers of people in their 20s who are leaving Calgary.

The January unemployment figures for people 15-24 were at 22.3 per cent in Alberta.

“This group is concerned about financial security as anyone would (be) when they’re dealing with fairly significant debt and not very high prospects — at least in an Alberta context — of employment that will help them pay back that debt,” Finch said.

He said it’s essential Calgary has a plan to look at the issues of talent acquisition, retention and development.

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“As a city, one of the challenges is that we have no accountability or plan around the importance of the role of talent. It is just the wild west,” Finch said.

Read more: Calgary’s economic recovery going to take time, tech: Experts

One of the concerns raised by members of the study was tuition hikes and recent cuts to post-secondary education in Alberta.

“If the main mode to build a highly-skilled and highly-talented population of young people is university, and at the same time we are cutting our funding and our support of those programs, it signals that there is a misalignment, and I think that needs to be fixed in order to keep young people here,” Lukey said.

The Why Calgary report said the dominance of the energy sector contributes to a perception that a career path in Calgary is dependent on oil and gas.

Finch said the threat of young people leaving is real and it’s up to government, economic agencies and community leaders to give people in their 20s a reason to stay.

“It’s our job as any great business to tell our story about why you should purchase our city. It’s not the consumer’s job to figure it out. It’s our job as leaders,” he said.


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