Over the last decade, the Canadian digital economy has grown rapidly, bringing with it a wealth of economic and labour market opportunities. While the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in global turmoil, the shift to online life accelerated the digital economy. Today, industry and workers increasingly leverage technology to work, learn, and conduct business; this bolsters the resilience of digital economy output, productivity, and labour market demand. In December 2022, employment in sectors like transportation, accommodation and food services, and agriculture remained below pre-pandemic levels, while employment growth in the digital economy eclipsed that of all other sectors. At the end of 2022, the Canadian digital economy employed more than 2.2 million people—a growth of nearly 20%.
In Alberta, digital economy employment in December 2022 was nearly 27% above pre-pandemic levels. Although impressive, the surge is not entirely surprising: ICTC’s employer surveys and interviews note scaling levels of digital adoption among “traditional” sectors like energy, agriculture, manufacturing, and forestry. The pandemic and resulting lockdowns, shutdowns, and scale-downs created economywide uncertainty. In this environment, technology quickly became a critical lifeline for business continuity. With this came the growing need for digitally skilled talent.
Calgary represents a large portion of the province’s economic footprint. This hub of economic activity has steadily recovered from the pandemic. In September 2021, the Global Startup Ecosystem Report ranked Calgary among the top 100 startup ecosystems in the world and the second in Canada. Calgary is increasingly seen as an attractive place to live and do business; in fact, interprovincial and international migration pushed annual population growth to 3% in 2023. This study’s employer survey identifies positive outlooks, especially for the city’s digital future. Over 80% of respondents regarded the pandemic as an opportunity to be bold and change or expand their businesses, and another 80% are confident that their businesses will continue to thrive and exceed pre-pandemic levels going forward.
During the first phase of EDGE UP, seven in-demand jobs were identified across the digital economy. This was coupled with five core occupations experiencing significant layoffs in Calgary’s energy sector. Geoscientists, electrical engineers, engineering managers, chemical engineers, and petroleum engineers were mapped to the in-demand roles, outlining skill matches and gaps. These pathways allowed job seekers to better understand their skill overlaps and chart career transition plans. An additional 18 in-demand jobs have since been identified, including four from this study: back-end developers, site reliability engineers, marketing specialists (digital), and product managers. This study also identifies five new occupations within the energy sector that have seen displacement, shrinking employment, or no employment growth over the last few years: accounting, finance, human resources, marketing, and logistics professionals. Although these roles fall outside of typical STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) disciplines, they possess key technical and business skills that are highly mappable to in-demand roles.
The notion of workforce transition and upskilling has become both well-known and accepted in recent years. Calgary was one of the first locations in Canada to design, test, and deploy a successful upskilling program that facilitated impactful career transitions to retain skilled local talent. The success of programs like EDGE UP has made a noteworthy contribution to Calgary and the broader Canadian economy. They are especially pertinent today, in a period of rapid labour market change and heightened demand for talent. Some 85% of surveyed employers in this study indicated an openness to hiring career transitioners; 60% have hired career transitioners in the past; and 95% of those that have engaged career transitioners view the experience positively, praising their transferable soft skills and commitment to lifelong learning.
To further support Calgary’s growing digital economy, the second phase of EDGE UP trained more than 300 displaced energy-sector workers from the 10 above occupations. By leveraging their existing skill sets and filling skill gaps with short duration training, career transitioners support and elevate Calgary’s diverse and resilient digital economy. Calgary increasingly plays an important role for Canada in attracting investment, growing homegrown businesses, and creating prosperity—a strong, skilled talent base will allow that momentum to continue.