Alberta’s Digital-Led Post-COVID Future
In Alberta and across Canada, the economic and labour market impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was felt unevenly across sectors. As traditional in-person activities like shopping, work, and school shifted to the online world, sectors like retail, hospitality, tourism, manufacturing, and construction bore the brunt of that change and were subject to rapid and deep declines in output and employment. Although the digital economy was not completely spared of that disruption in consumer activity and supply chain integrity, by early summer 2020, tech employment and output almost immediately began an upward trajectory.
Despite the notable impact of the pandemic on Alberta’s economy, the province’s digital economy remained resilient and thrived. From February 2020 to May 2022, participation in Alberta’s digital economy grew by nearly 18%, and employed an additional 30,000 Albertans. In-demand jobs that experienced this growth included software-related roles like full stack developers, back end developers, and DevOps; data-related roles like data engineers, data analysts, and machine learning engineers; design-related roles like UX and UI designers, and product designers; and other roles such as operations and business, including cybersecurity specialists, product managers, and digital marketers.
The pandemic also accelerated the permeation of digital technology across sectors. A recent study by McKinsey found that the pandemic accelerated global technology adoption by several years. As a result, more “traditional” sectors are adopting, implementing, and even developing technological services and solutions to solve local and global challenges.
This study highlights four key subsectors that are poised to drive significant employment disruption and the growth of high-quality jobs for Albertans: fintech, health tech, clean technology, and agtech.
Financial technology witnessed a surge of new users as COVID-related health measures led more Albertan consumers and businesses to adopt digital banking services; health tech received a major boost as health professionals turned to telehealth and online consultations (related streams such as biotechnology also advanced). While Alberta is a national leader in cleantech, renewed national and international focus on net-zero goals led to a growth spurt in cleantech companies, alongside a boost in the procurement of cleantech products and services by oil and gas companies. Lastly, the pandemic—along with disruptions related to climate change—spotlighted sustainability and food security, putting a finer point on agricultural technology.
Most digital economy employers in this study are bullish about post-pandemic growth prospects; many had weathered the storm of COVID-19 and emerged with revenues and employment numbers exceeding pre-pandemic levels. Nearly three-quarters of employers believe that their companies’ revenues would stay above pre-pandemic levels going forward. However, realizing this potential requires a steady supply of talent; while the digital economy proved resilient to the most devastating economic and labour market impacts of COVID-19, the talent crunch also accelerated over the last few years. Employers surveyed in this study identified a lack of digitally skilled talent as the biggest threat to the success of the province’s digital economy going forward. This challenge is compounded by wage inflation and the “brain drain” of workers finding work in other jurisdictions.
Alberta plays an important role in the Canadian and global market rebound. Addressing accelerated demand for energy, agricultural goods, and technology products and services, TD Economics expects GDP growth in Alberta to reach 5.8%, surpassing that of all other the provinces and the Canadian average. A provincial focus on talent development, attraction, and retention is key to continued and sustainable prosperity.
Cutean, A., Matthews, M., Toor, M A Resilient Recovery: Alberta’s Digital-Led Post-COVID Future. Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC), June 2022. Ottawa, Canada.
The opinions and interpretations in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Alberta.