Despite a barrel of oil now costing about the same as 15 fancy coffees, there has been a lot of talk about how the Alberta economy is going to sputter along, but that’s not necessarily the case.

“It’s not all doom and gloom, despite some projects in the oil and gas sector being put on hold or cancelled,” says Larry Matychuk, Business Manager for the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters (UA), Local 488. “Not only are there still some projects under construction or being planned, but there are lots of job opportunities for tradespeople to maintain the huge number of facilities that have been constructed.”

"People can make an excellent living working in the trades,” he says. “We’ve got a lot of young people working for low wages in retail and restaurants, when they could have a viable career in the trades.”

Alberta’s two largest cities are experiencing a building boom. Edmonton is revitalizing its downtown with a number of new towers, hotels and a hockey arena being built. In Calgary, the 58-storey Bow Tower was recently completed, and in the works is another, Brookfield Place, that when complete will be the tallest tower in Canada, outside of Toronto. Then there are the dozens of electrical power plants that are underway or planned for construction throughout the province. This is all providing great demand for qualified tradespeople.  

“I have no problem recommending the trades to young people,” says Matychuk. “The future of the trades is still strong, and it can be a great career. People are well compensated, and they are surprised when they see how far they can progress into supervisory roles, project management, or even starting their own companies.”

Promising careers in trades

Like any industry, training and education is important for a successful career. That’s why the Alberta Pipe Trades College, an institution funded and operated by the UA, now sees more than 1,000 students each year. “Training is the future for anyone, because skilled workers are the ones that are in demand and will get hired,” says Bill Wilson, the College’s Director of Education.

According to Wilson, more people are choosing the trades as a career, and as a result the face of the trades is changing. “We have people coming into the trades who were once toiling away in office jobs, or computer programmers, or school teachers,” says Wilson.

“I even know a former bank manager, who turned to the trades, and he loves being a pipefitter.” Trevor Robertson, Business Manager for UA Local 496, says it’s full steam ahead for the trades in Alberta. “People can make an excellent living working in the trades,” he says. “We’ve got a lot of young people working for low wages in retail and restaurants, when they could have a viable career in the trades.”

Robertson says we need to change the perception of the trades with young people and their parents, because some people still think the trades is for people who aren’t smart or can’t get into university. “The trades is highly technical and requires a lot of smarts,” he says. “People shouldn’t be ashamed of a career in the trades. There are plumbers that will make more money than some doctors and lawyer."