Labour Shortages in Saskatchewan

31 Pages Posted: 28 Mar 2013

See all articles by J. C. Herbert Emery

J. C. Herbert Emery

University of Calgary - Department of Economics

Date Written: January 30, 2013


The predictions in the media and from think tanks sound altogether alarming: Saskatchewan, with its booming economy, could be facing a worker shortage so severe that it could drastically hobble the province’s ultimate economic potential. While the world craves only more of Saskatchewan’s abundant natural resources, the province won’t possibly be able to keep up, due to a scarcity of workers that could be as significant as one-fifth of the labour supply by 2020. The Saskatchewan government has rushed to analyze the predicament, issuing reports that urgently seek solutions. But it hasn’t really developed any solutions. In fact, it hasn’t done much about the supposedly looming crisis at all. And that, actually, might just be all it can — and should — do.

In truth, Saskatchewan can’t be sure it will be facing a serious shortage, or any shortage, at all. And any attempt by the provincial government to substantially intervene in the labour market could cause more problems for employers and the economy, than it addresses. Saskatchewan’s labour market has already shown a remarkable ability to adjust, on its own, to the commodities boom, and what employers today call a shortage, could well just be everyone getting used to a much tighter, but still very functional, labour market.

The province’s lack of action did mean it missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redirect a huge cohort of Gen-Y students into training for trades that are in high demand (that cohort is already in its mid-20s and finished, or finishing, its career training). That was a mistake. But one big thing the Saskatchewan government can still do to help employers — and workers — is to stop making the strains on labour worse by launching imminent public infrastructure projects that compete with the private sector for labour. Instead, the province should plan those for when the boom slows down and workers need the jobs. It should also abandon any ideas of ramping up the import of temporary foreign workers to fill short-term job vacancies: those workers have a way of dampening wage signals that would draw more permanent, and therefore desirable, workers to the province.

What few things the province could be actively doing, it should do anyway. It should help retrain workers with skills in low-demand for jobs in higher demand. It should recruit migrants from other provinces and overseas to settle in Saskatchewan. It should carefully review its post-secondary education system to minimize drop-out rates from apprenticeship programs and to ensure it is training people to match the economy’s demands. And it should be finding ways to mobilize large portions of the population that could be working, yet aren’t, including underemployed males and Aboriginals, but also the elderly and disabled. If there is, indeed, a shortage somewhere in Saskatchewan’s future, having those people working can only help. But even if there is never a shortage, having large pools of potential labour sitting idle is something that will truly limit Saskatchewan’s economic potential.

Keywords: province, policy, economy, resource, job, demand, supply, work, market, labour, shortage, infrastructure, commodity, wage

JEL Classification: O15, J41, J40, J61, J68

Suggested Citation

Emery, J. C. Herbert, Labour Shortages in Saskatchewan (January 30, 2013). SPP Research Paper No. 6-4, Available at SSRN: or

J. C. Herbert Emery (Contact Author)

University of Calgary - Department of Economics ( email )

2500 University Drive, NW
Calgary, Alberta T2N 1N4
403 2205489 (Phone)
403 2825262 (Fax)


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