There’s nothing like getting ready for an interview to provide an opportunity to delve into statistics.

The employment statistics released on Friday by Statistics Canada may sound good at first, but they raise more questions than they answer.

The numbers show that 20,400 new jobs were created in Alberta in March. (Remember that no one physically counts these jobs – the numbers are based on surveys.) Despite the good news – Alberta’s numbers were the best in the country – the province’s unemployment rate held steady. Another 7,000 people are looking for work.

As many as 2,700 jobs have been lost in the resource sector, so that accounts for at least part of the 7,000. However, sometimes an increase in the numbers of people looking for work is a hopeful sign – more people think that more jobs are available. And in March, at least, they were right.

The jobs were created mostly in three broad sectors: financial services (including insurance, and leasing); wholesale and retail trade; and, manufacturing. And they are full-time, which is welcome; many of the jobs created recently have been part-time jobs.

Curiously, more than half of the new jobs (10,500) are classed as self-employment. Makes me wonder exactly what people are self-employed in doing – but, today’s numbers don’t tell us that. Our friends at ATB have been following this closely, and their analysis shows that over the last two years there have been monthly fluctuations in the self-employed numbers. The range has been about 30,000 people choosing and leaving self-employment. There had been no steady trend – until an upward trend over the last five months. March’s number of self-employed people in Alberta is the highest yet – 394,000.

Usually we would expect self-employment to trend generally upwards when jobs disappear at the rate they did in Alberta. This time it looks like people held on for a while thinking that the jobs would come back. But most of them haven’t, and indeed, won’t.

So, it would be great to know more about what it is that self-employed people are doing in Alberta. Is it that they have hung out their consulting shingle, and are working on contract in areas close to their last job description?

Or, have they started anew, using competencies they developed in their previous experience, and in their lives beyond work, and begun to work in new fields by creating their own work? A few grassroots organizations are working across the province to assist people to find these new niches.

Interesting too, is the fact that 53% of petroleum services companies surveyed by PSAC during last fall’s gearing up for the drilling season said that they were having trouble finding qualified people.

We know, from ATB’s The Owl, that fewer people have left the province during this recession than did during previous downturns, so it’s not likely that they are just not here anymore. It would be useful to learn if they got tired of the ups and downs of the patch and are seeking work in the other growing sectors of the economy – or if they are part of the nascent trend to self-employment, and are going out on their own.

So many questions, so much to keep me delving into those statistics for a long time yet.

Janet Lane is the Director of the Human Capital Centre