This is why youth say they’re leaving Alberta

This is why youth say they’re leaving Alberta

by Sue Jones
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A new report by the Canada West Foundation (CWF) shows that despite rising job vacancies across the prairies, more young people are choosing to move to cities and towns in B.C. and Ontario, which they feel better reflect their values.

Empty Downtown Calgary

After decades of younger people moving to Alberta, often to take advantage of oil booms, the trend reversed in 2016. (Drew Anderson/CBC)

A new report says despite rising job vacancies, more young Albertans are choosing to live outside of the province. 

Youth in Alberta, Vancouver and Toronto were surveyed to find out why they were moving and what they were looking for in a new community for a report by the Canada West Foundation (CWF). 

“They are leaving Alberta. Some are very interested in leaving Alberta, and perhaps just as difficult to hear is that youth aren’t as attracted to coming to Alberta as they used to be,” Janet Lane with CWF, who co-authored the report, told the Calgary Eyeopener

“We do know we’ve had a net outmigration, meaning that more people, more young people, have left Alberta than come in.” 

From 2017 to 2021, Alberta’s net out-migration of people between 25 and 29 was 1,133 per year, which is only two per cent of that age group. But due to there being fewer youth in the age-group behind them, Alberta had nine per cent fewer 25 to 29-year-olds in 2021 than it did five years prior. 

For decades Alberta saw younger people moving to the province, often due to oil booms. But the trend reversed in 2016. In that year, for the first time since 1988, more people between the ages of 15 and 29 moved out of the province than moved in, the report said. 

The report notes that for the past few decades, the number of young people moving to the province has gone hand in hand with boom-and-bust cycles in the oil and gas sector. But now youth are leaving because they do not perceive Alberta to have a diverse economy. 

“They see that the oil and gas sector is still the biggest employment sector as far as they see, and it is perception to them,” Lane said. 

She also said Calgarians, in particular, are interested in leaving Alberta. 

Youth aren’t as attracted to coming to Alberta as they used to be.– Janet Lane, Canada West Foundation 

The report says that while young people are motivated by career opportunities when considering a move, non-economic factors — such as public transport, cleanliness, safety and proximity to experiences — also heavily influence their decisions. 

Despite a growing tech industry, relatively affordable housing, and extensive parks and outdoor activities, the report found many young people think Alberta lacks vibrancy and diversity. 

Most of the youth surveyed also negatively associated the province with conservatism and intolerance. 

‘Enormous consequences’ to youth migration

Losing the province’s youth could have “enormous consequences,” said David Finch, another report co-author and professor at Mount Royal University. 

“If we start bleeding the best and the brightest, that will start having direct impact, especially … for investors thinking if they don’t have sufficient competencies or expertise in this area, why would I move my business there?”

Finch said Alberta has the assets to be exceptional. It just comes down to challenging perception. 

“Young people not just within Alberta, but people outside of Alberta have very traditional views of the province and of the cities, both economically and socially, and therefore the perception is turning them off.” 

To attract more young people to the province, the report recommends better communication regarding Alberta’s diverse career opportunities, the employment of progressive municipal government policies and continued community revitalization efforts. 

An accompanying report by CWF showed all four western provinces saw a growth in job vacancies between 2019 and 2021. In Alberta, vacancies went up by 63 per cent, while B.C. saw a rise of 48 per cent. 

That report also said Alberta saw a drastic decline in net youth migration in 2015, after experiencing positive growth in youth migration over the previous 30 years. Since 2015, migration has been negative within the 24 to 29 and 30 to 34-year-old sub-cohorts.

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