Young Talent Attraction and Retention

Is Alberta at risk of losing some of its highly prized young, skilled labour force?

Recent numbers show a decline in the numbers of young adults, aged 18-29, in Alberta. Some leave for jobs, or to study in other provinces or countries, and do not return, and fewer are arriving from other provinces. Economic, social and political factors all affect this “brain drain.” Low youth entrepreneurism and high youth unemployment suggest a mismatch between available skills and current opportunities. Additionally, the growing number of young entrepreneurs and skilled workers that are choosing to leave Alberta raises questions about what Alberta needs to do to compete with greener economic pastures elsewhere. In Alberta’s urban centres, this is an especially worrying trend, particularly when viewed in the context of the current economic crisis, and the collapse of downtown business communities. Fewer youth in a community bodes ill for the future success of that community and for the economy overall.

The Canada West Foundation has launched a project that examines the social and environmental challenges of young talent retention and attraction for Alberta, with the intention to provide recommendations on how to ensure the province recruits and keeps talented young Albertans. Through focus groups and surveys, the project speaks to youth themselves to get to the heart of the problem. We will also engage with industry associations and other stakeholders, examine youth talent retention programs in Alberta and elsewhere, and provide economic modeling of potential economic impacts from different scenarios. This project is funded by Western Economic Diversification.

Focus groups

Dr. David Finch, Professor, Mount Royal University and Senior Fellow, Institute for Community Prosperity is conducting qualitative, primary research. Dr. Finch has led 12 focus groups targeted at youth representative of a variety of demographic groups. The focus groups have included high school students, those who have just left high school, and those who are starting to work and have either remained in the province or left the province. Dr. Finch also leads an ongoing analysis of social media sentiment to gain insight into youth attitudes towards Alberta.


In June 2021, Stone-Olfason, one of Alberta’s leading market research companies, will conduct a survey of Albertans within three age clusters: 18-24, 25-29 and 30-45. This survey will determine youth attitudes towards their city/region and how their current location meets their needs and values. The data from Dr. Finch’s work helped inform the survey questions. Thanks to funding from Calgary Economic Development, the survey is also set to be conducted in Vancouver, Toronto, and Kitchener-Waterloo; this will provide comparative data.


 Canada West Foundation is conducting secondary research focused on the following areas:

  • Young talent retention programs in Alberta and similar domestic and international markets
  • Short-term and medium-term growth and labour demand/supply forecasts (broken down by sector)
  • Discussions with industry associations and other stakeholders
  • Ideas and best practice examples to retain and attract young skilled individuals
  • Identification of any research gaps to highlight for stakeholders where additional data collection could be useful

We will also undertake economic modelling to examine the potential economic impacts of various scenarios that might affect patterns of youth migration.

Must read:

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WHAT NOW? Policy Brief | The New Alberta Talent Advantage: Not just a place, an experience
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