Canada’s oilpatch may once again be a magnet for workers from across the country and around the world, an economist said yesterday after a study predicted a major labour shortfall in the energy sector by 2014.

Human resources consulting firm Mercer surveyed 135 oil, natural gas and utility companies and found the sector will be short some 24,000 workers in four years.

“I’ve been expecting labour shortages to lurk their heads once again in Alberta’s economy as the recovery takes firmer hold,” said Todd Hirsch, a senior economist at ATB Financial.

As a result, a program to recruit temporary workers from abroad may need to be ratcheted up, he added.

“It seemed to take us a long time when the labour shortages were upon us last time to get the temporary foreign worker process up to speed. But once it was up to speed, then companies could bring in those foreign workers very quickly,” Hirsch said.

“I think that process will stay in place and I don’t think they’ll have as much of a time lag getting those foreign workers.”

In 2009 and early 2010, Alberta saw more people leaving than coming in. But that’s likely to change, Hirsch said.

Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, was dubious the province will return to a labour market as tight as the 2005 to 2008 boom.

“We’re not going back there, so we can’t be cavalier about keeping jobs in the province,” he said.

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