Perception vs. reality: How to convince young people that Calgary holds a future for them

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Perception vs. reality: How to convince young people that Calgary holds a future for them
WATCH: As Calgary's economic slump drags on, the push to retain young talent is growing. A new program is hoping to change the perception about Calgary so those just starting out stick around. Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports – Mar 9, 2021

According to a new report, there are signs suggesting that the economic disruption in Calgary is impacting the retention of young talent in the city.

Like many recent university grads, Jared Oviatt spends much of his time writing cover letters and sending out resumes.

“Unemployment among young people is so high right now. It’s just so hard to find a long-term career, especially with a lot of older people with much more experience getting laid off and sliding into some of those entry-level roles,” Oviatt said.

The 22-year-old has a business degree from Mount Royal University and hopes to work in film and TV marketing. At this point, he’s considering leaving Calgary.

“That always changes depending on what companies are around the city and what opportunities come up for myself, but right now, I think ideally I would not want to stay here just based on the industry I’m trying to go into,” Oviatt said.

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Oviatt was a part of the group reports that inspired Why Calgary, a community initiative facilitated by the Institute for Community Prosperity at Mount Royal University. It examines how to keep young people in Calgary.

“Our future is about our people, and therefore, we have to look at the issues of acquisition, retention and development cohesively, and we don’t have a plan at the city level at all,” said David Finch, Mount Royal University professor and senior fellow at the Institute for Community Prosperity.

A recent Why Calgary report indicated that perception can be the biggest driver of young people leaving.

The report states: “The dominance of the energy sector contributes to a perception that a career path in Calgary is dependent on oil and gas.”

“A lot of people in Vancouver like to talk about what a great environment it is for film and television workers or even the industry itself — being in a creative environment with like-minded people. That’s not to say that Alberta is not that type of place but I think perception-wise, it’s not quite there yet,” Oviatt said.

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The CEO of Calgary Economic Development said Calgary post-secondary institutions have been turning away people for years because of capacity issues. The difference now is that some aren’t coming back.

“What we are seeing with the 24 to 35 age group, where we used to see the massive migration back into the community to potentially secure high-paying jobs in the energy industry, we are just not seeing that anymore,” Mary Moran said.

Calgary Economic Development has launched a campaign called “Live Tech. Love Life” aimed at convincing people the city has a bright future in technology.

“There is a perception problem across the country that we have been monitoring that people only think we are oil and gas, and yet we have this burgeoning tech industry that is happening here,” Moran said.

“We need to retrain fast. We need to retain as many people as possible but we also need to tell a different story about Calgary so people fully understand that they can get a job here and what they really want to know is, ‘What is my second, third or fourth job going to be?'”

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