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Sask.’s employment growth among slowest, fewer work in ag and energy

Saskatchewan saw more job growth in areas like public administration, while dips were reported in the natural resources and agriculture sectors.

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Despite slight gains of more people working in the province, Saskatchewan has become a laggard in employment growth and has been unable to see strong rebounds in the resource and agriculture sector, according to recently compiled Statistics Canada data.

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According annual labour force statistics, Saskatchewan had 581,500 people employed in 2022, a 0.8 per cent increase from the 576,900 people working in the pre-pandemic year of 2019.

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While the job numbers are the highest they’ve ever been, those figures put the province in last place for employment growth during that time frame. Neighbouring Alberta saw 3 per cent growth and Manitoba employment grew by 2.4 per cent. The national average was 3 per cent.

Additionally, Saskatchewan’s GDP, adjusted for inflation over time, dropped 5.6 per cent during that time-frame. It again was the largest decline among the provinces, with neighbouring Alberta falling by 3.6 per cent and Manitoba declining by 2.7 per cent.

Notably, according to some labour economists, employment in Saskatchewan’s resource and agriculture sectors has not been able to rebound since 2019, despite high commodity prices over the past year.

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Statistics Canada data shows 19,200 people worked in the mining and oil and gas sector in 2022, a 16 per cent drop from the 23,100 people who worked in 2019. There were 28,100 people working in 2012.

The agriculture industry had 27,800 people working in 2022, a sharp 32 per cent decline from the 40,800 who worked in 2019.

Each industry has their own reasons for the decline, but Joseph Marchand, an economics professor at the University of Alberta, said he believes the energy industry remains “spooked,” largely because of uncertainty and green policies.

“There’s really no searching for growth in terms of capital projects, long-term investment and things like that,” Marchand said. “All that cash (from higher commodities) is just going to shareholders and government coffers, but not to the future of the province, and that kind of stinks.”

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A file photo of a combine north of Regina.
A file photo of a combine north of Regina. Photo by TROY FLEECE /Regina Leader-Post

Agricultural labour experts say there are multiple reasons behind the steep drop in employment, though it has been falling for several years.

Jennifer Wright, the executive director with the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC), said the number of farmers continue to decline as smaller producers sell their land to larger farmers.

“Recruiting workers to rural areas has been a challenge in Saskatchewan and across Canada,” she added, noting the industry has struggled to attract people locally.

Wright said the industry is looking at a number of measures to address these challenges, including advocating for changes to temporary foreign worker programs and spreading more awareness about job opportunities.

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In 2021, labour shortages resulted in a Canada-wide $2.9 billion earnings loss for the sector, according to CAHRC.

Meanwhile, Saskatchewan saw employment growth in public administration, health-care and social assistance. Public administration, which covers all levels of government, grew by 16.1 per cent since 2019 for a total of 36,700 jobs in 2022.

Health-care and social assistance employment increased by 13.8 per cent, with 91,700 people employed. Retail trade employment has also grown by 12.7 per cent, as 73,800 work in that sector.

During a news conference earlier this week, NDP Leader Carla Beck said the stagnant overall gains are a result of what she believes is Premier Scott Moe’s failure to grow the economy.

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The NDP has said it would work with industries to develop policies that they say would help the province grow. It’s also called for the return of the family reunification class for the immigration nominee program.

NDP jobs critic Aleana Young has noted that while overall population has increased because of immigration, more people are leaving Saskatchewan to other provinces than those coming in.

“On the capital side, we are not seeing investment to match other provinces,” Young said. “We are seeing capital investment that is not resulting in real jobs for Saskatchewan people.”

Despite the slow growth in overall employment, workers remain in high demand acompanies continue to seek applicants. Job vacancies have been historically high, notably because many baby boomers are entering retirement.

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The unemployment rate has remained at all-time lows across the country. Saskatchewan has a 4.1 per cent unemployment rate, a figure the province likes to point to.

The government has also touted that a number of large infrastructure projects are poised to be built, including the new Jansen potash mine and various canola crushers in the Regina area.

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