May 25th, 2024

Alberta seeing ‘exodus of young people’ SACPA hears

By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman - Lethbridge Herald on November 20, 2021.


Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs hosted David Finch Thursday to talk about the drivers of talent mobility in Alberta and across Canada.

Finch’s presentation, ‘An Exodus of Young People: Is this Alberta’s Future?’ was an expose of how young citizens are leaving the province. As a senior fellow at the Institute for Community Prosperity, Finch leads the Institute’s CityXLab. This Lab explores the intersection between a city’s learning, creative and active experiences and its ability to attract, develop and retain human capital.

Finch started by stating the prosperity of cities has been tied to their proximity to natural resources in the past, and what has changed dramatically in the last 20 years is that today, a community’s prosperity is linked to its ability to attract, retain, develop and mobilize human capital.

“We’ve seen a dramatic change where it’s about the ability to harness human capital as opposed to natural capital,” said Finch.

As a marketing professor, Finch presented the issues regarding the risk of young people leaving our province as a purchasing issue. He compared the fact of deciding where to live as “purchasing a city” and he explained some of the influential factors on that decision based on a year-long study. Young people in this study are defined as 18 to 29 years old.

“Alberta has been the absolutely single largest province in regards to the attraction of young people for a variety of different reasons over the last 50 years,” said Finch.

But he also added that in the last five years that has dropped dramatically to a trickle.

“If you look at the last one year…we’re bleeding more young people than we are gaining,” said Finch.

To have a better understanding of the issue of young people leaving the province, Finch asked what young Canadians’ perceptions of Alberta are, and what does Alberta need to do to make the province once again a magnet for young adults?


To answer the question of the perception of Alberta, Finch used a graph with feedback from keywords people thought of when they thought of Alberta.

“We cluster these in a variety of areas… when people think of Alberta they think oil and gas,” said Finch.

Oil and gas was the most common answer among people’s perceptions of Alberta. Followed by nature from mountains, rivers, skiing, hiking and also followed by conservative people, where young adults associate Alberta with Conservatives.

“What I find interesting here, is that the Alberta data is very unique because we often sit here and think people in Toronto and Vancouver don’t understand us, but my take on this data is in fact many Albertans don’t understand ourselves,” said Finch.

He explained that it’s Calgarians projecting stereotypes onto rural Alberta, and rural Albertans projecting stereotypes in urban Alberta.

“Is Edmonton and Calgary that are more likely to say that we are rednecks? More likely to say that we are intolerant,” said Finch.

Finch said that what Alberta needs to do to fix the exodus of young people issue, can be summarized in five strategies.

In a series of slides Finch explained the five strategies. The first one he called ‘Be targeted’, which provides pathways for targeted policy to support enhanced retention or attraction. The second strategy would be career pathways, to focus on the future and seed professional capital. The third strategy would be diversity to modernize governance structures and confront intolerance. The fourth strategy would be shaping the perception of Alberta and its reputation to create young people’s identity with the province, and lastly accountability, by establishing chief talent officers at the provincial and local level.

Finch also answered some questions from the audience and one of them was regarding cuts in funding for healthcare and post-secondary education and how that would affect the decision-making process of young people to either stay or leave the province.

“The thing is it says at a macro level because it represents the prioritization of values, values of certain public policy and so what we see amongst young people, specifically in the area of education, this is personal to them,” said Finch.

He added that when cutbacks to education happen, young Albertans start looking for other markets, other provinces that would offer them bursaries or scholarships, and therefore the province starts to lose people.

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So to reduce this to more specific terms other than an exodus, how many came and how many left. Otherwise just more gafflegab laced in generalities which are unquantifiable.