Calgary used to be a beacon of opportunity. In the not-so-distant past, young people from all over Canada were flocking to the city to find a career, build a great life and make some money. Calgary is now facing a reverse reality. The current generation entering the workforce is afraid of what their livelihood looks like here, and without the right solutions, we’re going to lose them to other provinces.
It’s a palpable feeling in the city, and it’s hard to pinpoint when it started. I’ve said it before, and we’re all hearing it everywhere: times are bad. What are the implications of losing our young people? It’s the vibrancy, the vitality and the future of the city. We can look next door to Saskatchewan to exemplify what I’m talking about. The mass exodus of young people heading westward at the turn of the millennium was because of a lack of opportunity in that province.
A longtime customer of mine, a large U.S.-based firm, is closing its Calgary office in October and will be laying off its staff. This adds another 40 engineers to an already flooded talent pool, plus 25 additional technicians and support staff. What happens to the engineering class that graduated from U of C this past spring? They are now competing for jobs with experienced people who are chomping at the bit to get back in the workforce. New grads are going to start searching for jobs everywhere but here. How do we encourage them to stay and build their career?
Making Calgary an attractive option for up-and-coming sectors is imperative. Technology is the low-hanging fruit. Why can’t Calgary be Canada’s hub for big data, artificial intelligence or cloud computing? We have move-in ready infrastructure and restrictive American immigration policies reduce the drain on our talent south of the border. Economic diversification will depend on the emerging tech sector in Alberta, but we need significant investment to make it globally viable. The good news is that the innovation ecosystem in Calgary is growing fast.
As Calgary’s business leaders and professionals, whether we work in the tech sector or not, we can help by supporting young entrepreneurs. Calgary has always been an entrepreneurial city. Many organizations support entrepreneurship, mentorship and philanthropy in Calgary; it’s up to business people of all ages to lend their wisdom and experience. Groups such as the Young Presidents’ Organization, Entrepreneurs’ Organization, A100, MacKay CEO Forums and Rotary Club have created incredible opportunities for me and many others. Whether it’s one of these organizations or the one you belong to, building community translates into prosperous career opportunities.
As parents, mentors, leaders and friends to Calgary’s young people, we play an integral role in supporting their economic future. We must encourage our local political, business and community leaders to support employment and training, prioritize affordable housing and transportation, and make a concerted effort to engage local talent. There is no more critical resource to invest in than young people, not only with dollars and cents but with mentorship and intangible supports. If we lay that foundation for success, we may be able to keep them around.
I don’t want my kids to have to find their prosperity in another city. I want this generation to have the same opportunities we had so that they can pass the torch to the next generation in due time.