Adapting to life in post-recession Alberta

We might be on the cusp of a transformative wave that will reshape the future of work, but that's not all doom and gloom

By Todd Hirsch
and Rob Roach

CALGARY, Alta., April 28, 2017 /Troy Media/ – From the loss of a loved one to being diagnosed with a disease, unwanted change happens. Somewhere near the top of this unpredictably predictable list is losing your job – exactly the kind of unwanted change many Albertans have experienced over the last two years.

On the bright side, it looks like Alberta’s economy has turned a corner and will return to modest growth in 2017. But the unwanted change caused by the recession isn’t completely over. Some jobs will return, some won’t. Some businesses that failed will be reborn, some won’t. Some drained savings accounts will be refilled, others won’t.

Todd Hirsch

This is especially true for Albertans working in the oil patch, directly or indirectly. The recession reminded us of our dependency on a single commodity and the pain it causes when its price plunges. Alberta’s oilpatch has remained viable only by increasing efficiency and bringing costs down.

Unfortunately, this increased efficiency has thrown a lot of Albertans out of work. Perhaps even more troubling is that many of these jobs may not come back even if oil prices stay above $US50 or $US60 a barrel. A leaner oilpatch is the new normal to which we have to adapt.

Looking beyond the black gold that has bolstered Alberta’s economy for so long, the picture becomes foggy. Petroleum will remain a backbone of the economy, but there’s uncertainty about what jobs in new sectors will look like. Advancements in robotics, automation and other technology may start to eliminate large swaths of traditional jobs. If (many would say when) this happens, people around the world will have a lot of adapting to do. Alberta is no exception.

Change isn’t new but it feels like we might be on the cusp of a transformative wave that will dramatically reshape the future of work.

The good news is that these changes also bring opportunities. It’s not all doom and gloom.

Rob Roach

To this end, there’s a lot we can learn from people who have been there, done that when it comes to adapting to change. In our new book Spiders in Space: Successfully Adapting to Unwanted Change, we’ve collected 15 stories of Canadians who found ways not only to adapt but to thrive in the face of unwanted change.

From Canadian Paralympian Michelle Salt, who lost her leg in a motorcycle accident, to the Canadian wine industry’s renaissance after the free-trade agreement was expected to kill it, the stories are inspiring and instructive.

We didn’t discover a magic formula for turning life’s lemons into lemonade. Rather, we compiled a set of adaptive traits that emerged from the stories – traits that seemed essential in dealing with unwanted change.

Among these traits is the ability to accept and harness the tension created by having to act in ways that seem contradictory. For example, successful adapters have to practise realistic faith. The realism helps them focus on their core strengths and prevents them from wasting their time. The faith enables them to dream big and be unbounded by fear. The two seem contradictory but their tension provides strength.

Similarly, adapters need a pioneering attitude to charge forward even if no one else is following. Yet this has to be matched by a willingness to seek help from others. It’s not easy, but adapters have to embrace the tension created by being a lone wolf one minute and a member of a pack the next.

An entrepreneurial spirit is a second overarching theme evident in these stories of Canadian adapters. Successful adapters get off the couch and make good things happen through hard work and creative thinking.

Both successful adapters and successful entrepreneurs pour themselves into what they’re trying to achieve. They work long hours. They try things, fail and try again. They look at things from different angles and seek to reshape the way things are.

Albertans have been through the ringer but it’s not the first time we’ve had to adapt. Economic change in 2017 has its own unique challenges and opportunities – some good (robots doing menial tasks for us) and some bad (jobs in the oilpatch not coming back).

This won’t be easy, but embracing tension and unleashing our entrepreneurial spirit will help us adapt to the new conditions. With hard work and a bit of luck, it’ll enable us to thrive as well.

Todd Hirsch is the chief economist and Rob Roach is the director of insight at ATB Financial. To find out where to get a copy of their new book Spiders in Space: Successfully Adapting to Unwanted Change, visit

The views, opinions and positions expressed by all Troy Media columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Troy Media.
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