St. Albert’s entry-level job market flooded with applicants


Despite labour shortages in Alberta, some St. Albert businesses are seeing more applicants than ever

Last Thursday, Italian Bakery’s Mercato in St. Albert put up a job ad for a grocery clerk.

Within 24 hours, the grocery store had over 50 applicants.

“When we started running ads on Indeed, we used to run it for a month, two months at a time,” said Adamo Rossi, the store’s owner and director of operations. “We used to get maybe in the whole duration, 20 to 30 applicants … Now we only run the ad for three or four days and then we cut it off because it’s just too much.”

While Mercato’s senior staff have been with the store for many years, entry-level workers at the grocery spot are a bit more transient. And the competition for these starter jobs is stiffer than ever.

Most of the towering pile of applications are coming from local university and high school students looking for summer work, Rossi said. For many it’s a first or second job. “They’re good kids,” Rossi said.

“We look for the person who’s got the most experience — if any experience. Then once we reach a target of five or something we stop,” he said. “We can’t look at them all because it doesn’t stop.”

Mercato is not alone.

Effing seafood recently used Indeed to post an ad for an entry-level job and received 29 applicants the first day. Now, only a few days later, they’re sitting at 88 applications for the position, said Rob Tryon, the store’s owner. It’s way more applicants than they are used to seeing.

Many applicants are coming from outside of the province — mostly from Ontario — and also from outside of Canada, he said.

“Within the first couple of days, that’s when you get most of the applicants, and you have to quickly try to filter through them,” he said.

But many job seekers seem to be applying indiscriminately.

“One of my first interview questions is, ‘what can you tell me about Effing Seafood?’ Did you do a quick Google search for five minutes, or search Facebook?” he said. “Anybody that has gets a double check mark … I know it’s an entry-level position, but I would assume you’d kind of want to know what you’re getting yourself into.”

The business used to print resumes for interviews, but now they’re asking interviewees to come with a resume in hand. Too many applicants didn’t show up, and Tryon got tired of wasting paper, he said.  

“It’s easier to eliminate people when they can’t just put in that one little bit of effort of finding our address, or bringing a resume to an interview,“  he said.

“It’s a very frustrating process.”

At D’Arcy’s Meat Market, it’s never been easier to find workers for entry-level positions, said owner Kyle Iseke.

“The skilled labour, like a very good cook, or a very good butcher, very good sausage maker, those are harder positions to fill,” he said.

He said the amount of applicants for part-time or entry-level work has fluctuated over the course of his career, but it’s certainly at a high right now.

He recently received 30 applications within an hour of posting a delivery truck driver job, he said.

Employers ‘extremely picky’

Matthew Dunlap just wants to be able to pay his bills and afford dates with his girlfriend.

In 2022 he moved to St. Albert from South Carolina, where jobs were plentiful. He expected a similar situation here, especially considering the province’s labour shortages, but after two months of searching and dozens of applications submitted, he’s starting to feel frustrated.

“I thought this should be easy,” he said. “I have a ton of experience from back home. I’ve been in sales, I’ve been in the restaurant business, I’ve been in pretty much anything customer service related.”

Dunlop’s last job was a remote sales gig based in the U.S.. Once that job ended, he got a Canadian work visa and started applying for positions in sales and at restaurants. He also has a bachelor’s degree in biology.

Despite a few promising interviews, he’s failed to land work.

“It feels to me at least that employers are extremely picky,” he said. He’s noticed online job ads requesting more years of experience than is necessary for work like bartending, which he did for a year in South Carolina.

He’s applied for jobs not only in St. Albert, but across the Edmonton region.

“I need something to do — I’m getting stir crazy,” he said. “For those who are looking for a job, just keep your head up. That’s all you really can really do in this environment.”

St. Albert labour market may be an anomaly 

The experiences of local businesses and job seekers run counter to narratives from Alberta’s employer associations that the province is short workers, said Dr. Jason Foster, a labour relations researcher at Athabasca University.

“I think this is suggesting is that, quite frankly, labour markets are more complicated than we acknowledge,” he said. “Certain regions, and certain areas, and even little micro-regions, for example, St. Albert, will have different labour market conditions than, say, downtown Edmonton.”

As economies improve, more workers who couldn’t find jobs during hard times decide to return to the labour market alongside new entrants, Foster said. That pattern could be at play in St. Albert.

“The irony is, if enough workers do that, it actually becomes harder to find work,” he said. “It could be that we’re just seeing a rush of workers entering the market, which is creating a surplus of entry-level workers, even if the overall industry might still be experiencing relative labour shortages.”

It’s also possible that workers who in the past might have commuted to Edmonton from St. Albert are choosing to look for work closer to home, he said.

Businesses can be more selective when there is a surplus of workers, and they face less pressure to increase wages. Conversely, job seekers may become more desperate, taking jobs they don’t truly want and staying in undesirable jobs longer out of fear they lack options.

“I imagine this will correct itself,” Foster said. “For some reason, there’s a little bit of a bulge happening that can be hard to explain.”

Recent data from Statistics Canada shows that labour participation for people in the 15-24 age category dropped to 62.7 per cent in January. That’s three percentage points lower than last April.

The labour force participation rate for all of Alberta dropped to 69.6 per cent from 69.7 per cent in the same time window, according to the province’s economic dashboard.


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