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Pipe fitters, plumbers, engineers, project managers, electricians and welders are in high demand in Canada’s oil and gas industry.

Ian Jackson/The Globe and Mail

Pipe fitters and plumbers in the oil and gas industry in Western Canada can expect higher salaries this year than retail and hospitality workers, a new study says.

The oil and gas sectors in Saskatchewan and Alberta are expected to have the highest average salary increase at 4.5 per cent, up from 4.2 per cent last fall, the Conference Board of Canada said Tuesday.

Engineers and project managers as well as electricians and welders are also in demand, said Ian Cullwick, the board's vice-president, leadership and human resources research.

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"Alberta and Saskatchewan just have a huge demand for those skill sets," he said in an interview from Ottawa.

Non-unionized salary gains are projected at 3 per cent nationally for 2013, with salary gains in the heavily populated provinces of Ontario and Quebec expected under that average.

Workers in hospitality, tobacco and manufacturing industries can expect lower salary increases of 2.3 per cent and retail workers 2.2 per cent, down from 2.9 per cent and 2.6 per cent respectively.

"In hospitality and retail, they have more transient work forces. They've got part-timers and contract workers. They've got part-time workers that are students as well," Mr. Cullwick said.

For unskilled and semi-skilled labour, he said, the implications are higher levels of unemployment and lower salary gains.

"You could argue it's almost two divides," he said, adding that there's a "misalignment" for producing specialized skills and trades versus general university programs that are "educating" but not necessarily developing skill sets.

For Quebec, the Conference Board projected salary gains to be below the national average at 2.7 per cent, while projections for Ontario and British Columbia are at 2.5 per cent.

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"We don't have the same boom that's coming from the resource and energy sectors," added Allison Cowan, senior research associate of compensation and industrial relations at the Conference Board.

Manufacturing continues to be challenging in Ontario and to some extent in Quebec, Ms. Cowan said.

While teachers and health-care workers, such as nurses, can expect salary gains of 2.6 per cent, in line with last year.

Unionized employees in the private sector should see wage increases averaging 2.3 per cent this year, up from 2.1 per cent in 2012, the board said.

Those in the public sector can expect to see their wages rise by an average of 1.6 per cent, down from the 1.8 per cent forecast last summer.

Mr. Cullwick said the private sector has been coming out of the 2009 recession while the public sector is "essentially in a financial recession."

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The four Atlantic provinces are expected to see a three per cent increase in non-union salaries this year, in line with previous estimates, and Manitoba salaries are still expected to rise 3.3 per cent over the coming year.

By contrast, Alberta's increases are now expected to come in at 3.9 per cent, which is one-10th of a point better than expected, while the estimate for Saskatchewan has been raised by three-10ths of a point to 4 per cent.

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