Apprentices willing to leave home, but can’t find work
© Paul Herridge/The Southern Gazette
Ben Stacey of Grand Bank is speaking out about a lack of work for apprentices in skilled trades, both in Newfoundland and Alberta. Stacey says a foreign workers program in Alberta has meant even fewer jobs for Newfoundlanders.
Ben Stacey of Grand Bank is a journeyman pipefitter and pipe insulator who travels back and forth between Newfoundland and Alberta for work.
He’s been doing this since 2007, working at places like the Marystown Shipyard and taking jobs out West when there’s no local work available.
Following in his father’s footsteps, his son has completed nine months of college and is now a first-year apprentice, but Stacey said his search for work has been discouraging.
Although he’s also willing to work outside the province, Stacey said no one seems to be hiring apprentices in this province or elsewhere because they want experienced workers.
And, on top of this, Stacey contends the hiring of more foreign workers recently in Alberta is reducing the number of jobs for Newfoundlanders, who have traditionally migrated to Western Canada to work.
Apprentices need hours of work and experience to obtain a journeyman’s certificate. They also need work to pay off student loans, which Stacey said can be as high as $12,000 to $13,000 for a nine-month course at a private college.
Stacey said his son has “bombarded Alberta with resumés, Quebec and everywhere in Newfoundland and, still nothing.”
He recently got a job with an aerodynamics company in Grand Bank. But Stacey said there’s not much work in his hometown and, previously, he was working at a local fast-food takeout.
Stacey has been collecting emails about apprentices with similar stories.
“These kids, after a couple of years of frustration, they go into a rut. I’ve talked to several of them personally,” he said.
Stacey said he believes both levels of government have “hung these kids out to dry,” because they were encouraged to go to school and get a trade and, now, there’s no work for them.
He worries jobs in Alberta for Canadian tradespeople, especially apprentices, will continue to decline as the number of foreign workers rise.
Stacey said he’s witnessed this first-hand. He said he was laid off recently in Alberta, while about 80 to 90 Filipino workers were still on the job. Being an experienced journeyman, Stacey said, he can usually find work on other projects, but young apprentices are not so fortunate.
Stacey insists the issue has nothing to do with race or racism. “These people are wonderful to work with,” he said. “But that’s not the issue. The issue is our people are having to stay home.”
The Alberta government estimates more than 60,000 temporary foreign workers currently work and live in that province.
Stacey suspects companies are hiring foreign workers to cut costs. He said he’s witnessed some foreign workers in Alberta working 20 days straight and only taking two days off, then working another 20-day period.
Newfoundland tradespeople in Alberta normally work a 20-day stint and are flown home for eight days, Stacey said. So, by employing foreign workers who expect less, he said, the companies are saving the cost of airfare and six days’ leave for each worker.
Stacey said he’s taken a lot of applications to Alberta to try to help young Newfoundland apprentices get work and finds it disturbing that Canadian tradespeople are “sitting home,” while foreigners are being brought into the country.
There was a time, he said, when this could only happen if it was proven a worker with a particular skill wasn’t available in Canada.
This issue is not only being debated among unemployed tradespeople in Newfoundland.
“These kids, after a couple of years of frustration, they go into a rut. I’ve talked to several of them personally.” Ben Stacey
The Alberta Federation of Labour, in a news release on Sept. 3, called for the “Temporary Foreign Worker” program to be scrapped.
The program, which stems from an agreement between the federal and provincial governments, was designed to help employers fill temporary jobs during Alberta’s boom period.
The labour federation there, however, claims the program has become “so dysfunctional that it needs to be scrapped.”
Secretary-treasurer Nancy Furlong said tens of thousands of undocumented foreign workers are becoming an “underground workforce,” vulnerable to abuse.
“Almost three-quarters of employers of temporary foreign workers inspected by the province in the past year violated employment standards, according to documents released earlier this year by the Alberta NDP,” Furlong said. “We also know that many foreign workers have to pay illegal fees of thousands of dollars to recruitment agencies, are forced to work unpaid overtime and live in substandard housing with exorbitant rents, and are misled into thinking they will be able to apply for citizenship in Canada.”
Nancy Furlong has suggested the Alberta government scrap the program and replace it with immigration through regular channels.
The Alberta government announced in September that it was investing $850,000 in immigrant-serving agencies to provide services to temporary foreign workers as they adjust to life and work in Alberta.
At the same time, the province said it would look at the impact of the arrival of thousands of temporary foreign workers on Alberta’s workforce, its communities and its people to identify future programming options.
Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said while the focus will “always be jobs for Albertans and Canadians first, it is important that we recognize the contributions of temporary foreign workers to our province — making them feel welcome and included in our communities is simply the right thing to do.”
Lukaszuk said he has asked his parliamentary assistant, Teresa Woo-Paw, to lead a review of the impact of the program on Alberta and present her findings and recommendations by spring 2011.
Stacey said he has contacted provincial and federal politicians and plans to present information he’s collected from other people in this province to present to both levels of government.
He’s already heard from apprentice steamfitters, pipefitters, pipe insulators, heavy equipment operators, electricians and other tradespeople who need work.
One person who finished an industrial instrumentation technician program at the College of the North Atlantic in 2009 said he has had no luck yet getting any work in his trade.
A mother told Stacey that her son and two of his friends completed electrical and commercial trades last year and can’t find work, despite all three having averages above 85 per cent.
Stacey said one man he’s spoken with has three trades and still can’t find work.
When student loans are due and there’s no work to be found, he said, often the only option is to go back to school and take more courses, with the hope of eventually landing a job.
Otherwise, these tradespeople have no means to pay off their student debt.