Smoky River Regional Economic Development

by Dan Dibbelt


In a previous life, I was a senior manager with the Alberta Government, located out of Peace River.

It was a great job. I had about a dozen people working under me, all very talented and committed to their work.
Many of them were new to workforce being recent grads from university. A couple of them were from the north, most were not.

It was always a challenge whenever we lost an employee and had to hire someone new. Most people, especially if they are not from the north, think life up here is a whole lot harder than down south. There are the usual stereotypes about the cold, long winters, lack of services and lack of things to do.

In economic development field we do our best to allay those fears. Countless organizations, brochures and websites try to convince potential newcomers that life is good up here. For those of us who were either born and raised up here or have spent a couple decades up here, we know it’s good.

We know about the beautiful wide, clean skies, the great recreational activities, access to local cultural events and the great opportunities for friendship and purpose.

I have made many good and close friends in my 17 years up here. I have also been open to many great opportunities.

Perhaps one of the greatest benefits for people contemplating a move north is the availability of opportunities. In large urban centres when a job is posted, many, many applicants tend to apply. Edmonton, alone has 17 post-secondary institutions. The University of Alberta has about 40,000 students. Studies show that 70 per cent of students stay in the region in which they graduated to pursue work.

The math would show that positions in centres like Edmonton get a lot of qualified applicants. And that is where we have an advantage, and where applicants have an even bigger advantage. Jobs posted for positions in the north, simply don’t get the same amount of interest they would get if they were posted in a larger urban centre.

The advantage for those that apply is their odds are much higher of being short listed or hired. The other advantage is that applicants can apply for jobs in the north that they wouldn’t necessarily be considered for elsewhere.

The opportunity for a position that is higher up than they may be eligible for in southern communities is an attraction. The problem for employers is that many of these new hires use northern positions to build their resume so they can apply and be considered for jobs down south.

This is not an insurmountable challenge for employers. Many of us southern transplants came to northern Alberta for a two year stint. Most of us know people who came up with the intention of returning down south after a couple years, and yet many years later, they are still here – and loving it.

Employers need to identify these employees and find out what convinced them to stay. For me it was the people.
Sure, I loved the beauty, the peace the opportunity, but it truly was the way people made me feel. I felt at home.

In the north people are genuinely kind and caring. They help their neighbours, they help strangers. They love their community and they love the north. Employers need to do is ensure their new hires have similar experiences. At the same time, remember the opportunity newcomers came for and ensure their work has opportunity for advancement. Do that and the north will sell them on all the rest.

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