Big Bucks for young Albertans: Hicks on Biz column originally published in the Edmonton Sun, Friday, March 9, 2012
A friend of mine had a kid finishing high school.
He was a smart, practical young man with a good attitude, but he didn’t have a clue what he wanted to do.
They made a practical decision.
They looked at the projected earnings for grads from NAIT’s technology programs. Off he went to enroll in the course with the highest earning potential.
Good decision. Three to four years after graduation, he’s an electrical engineering technologist.
Now 24, this young man is pulling down $100,000 a year in base salary, half that again in overtime. Plus benefits.
Welcome to Alberta, 2012, where young adults – with the right diploma and a willingness to work – are often making $100,000 a year.
There’s cause for concern – too much money, too fast, too young, unrealistic expectations, and so on.
But as long as the building boom continues in the oilsands (and it will continue, with $20 billion being spent on construction alone in 2012) , skilled labour finds itself, for once, in the driver’s seat.
For a younger tradesperson, there’s nary a cloud in this big blue sky.
In the field, an older generation is fast retiring. Many trades “hollowed out” during the lean ‘80s and ‘90s when there was no work to be had.
Today, the work is unending. The Alberta Treasury Board’s “inventory of major projects” is booked solid through 2020.
“My son is 21,” says a labour executive. “He’s laughing. He’s a junior power engineer … and last year he made $6,000 more than me!”
If you look at wage summaries – from union collective agreements and at the Alberta Learning Information Services website – most skilled and certified tradesmen are making $40 to $50 an hour.
For those who want to live in the city and raise a family, that’s about what they make.
But the men and a few women willing to bust their butts in dirty, back-breaking, -30C jobs are making a ton of dough. A top-flight welder in the oilsands, with overtime, can make 200 grand a year.
What of those seeking less physically demanding jobs?
They’re still doing extremely well in Edmonton, especially considering our bargain-priced housing.
An Edmonton city constable with eight years’ experience earns a base pay of $90,000 with plenty of opportunity for overtime.
A teacher with eight years’ experience clocks in at $84,000 to $91,000 a year.
Registered nurses earn a base pay of $85,000 a year with eight years of experience, but, thanks to generous overtime clauses, can make half that much again.
A skilled technologist in the Industrial Heartland around Fort Saskatchewan, after eight years, is making $70,000 to $80,000.
The average doctor in Edmonton, according to the 2011 Alberta Wages and Salary survey, nets $124,000 before taxes. But for specialists, that’s chump change. They’ll never tell you, but surgeons and medical specialists living in those deep Riverbend mini-mansions make from $300,000 to $1-million a year, depending on their contract with Alberta Health Services and cross-appointments to the U of A.
Lawyers are all over the map. They love to point to “average incomes” of below $100,000, but partners in major law firms are in the $300,000-plus stratosphere.
Even a top hair-stylist or waiter, again with that eight years’ experience, can push $100,000 a year.
“Do the math,” says a top hairstylist. “It’s $75 to $90 for a cut. Half the customers want colouring at $120 to $180. A stylist with a strong customer base can handle eight to nine customers a day, and they keep 40% of the total fee … plus 20% in tips.”
A top waiter, making $300 a night in tips at a popular high-end restaurant charging an average $60 per diner, would be pushing six figures.
At the other end of the scale, an owner of a chain of family restaurants says it’s not that difficult – yet – to find staff.
“A cook, as unskilled labour, starts at $35,000 a year. Our waiters make $9.05 an hour (an exception to Alberta’s minimum wage of $9.40 an hour) but they can make $100 an evening in tips.
“It’s all about experience. We like to hire our managers from within and a restaurant GM makes $100,000 a year.”
It’s not that difficult to find staff … yet. With all economic indicators pointing to a major labour shortage, this restaurant chain is busy recruiting temporary foreign workers, now 25% of his staff. “You can’t get Canadian kids to work in the back. They just won’t do it.”
I know, I know, a whole pile of Edmontonians make nowhere near this kind of dough. As for journalists, let’s not even go there!
But the fact is Northern Alberta economy is firing on all cylinders and a labour crisis looms.
For the skilled worker, especially in the trades or technologies, there’s no better place to be.
That kid at the top of our story, 24 and making $150,000 a year? He just bought himself a house in Summerside. And he didn’t borrow a dime from mom and dad.