If the Hebron partners are looking to address a skilled labour shortage, they need look no further than the hundreds of typically underutilized female apprentices in Newfoundland and Labrador.
That is according to the Women in Resource Development Corp. (WRDC) and the Office to Advance Women Apprentices (OAWA). Both organizations made presentations to the Hebron Public Review Commission at the Holiday Inn in St. John’s Tuesday.
The presentations centred on boosting the number of women involved in the Hebron offshore oil project, but also future megaprojects based in the province.
Executive director for WRDC, Charmaine Davidge, began by applauding Hebron lead ExxonMobil Canada for its support of programs offered through her organization, most promoting the trades and technical careers to young women.
Hebron project partners have also sponsored scholarship programs to encourage students in areas like engineering and skilled trades, as they reach the post-secondary level.
The next step, Davidge suggested, is bringing skilled students through their skilled trades apprenticeships.
Provincially, wage subsidies exist to encourage employers to take on women apprentices earlier in their apprenticeship work, covering 90 per cent for the employer in the first year, said executive director for the OAWA, Karen Walsh.
For an alternative means of advancing tradeswomen through Hebron, it was suggested at least 10 per cent of any apprenticeship spaces at Bull Arm be reserved for female apprentices.
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Davidge told The Telegram her organization would like to see the Hebron partners hire female workers before male workers.
That is, for cases wherein a male and female applicant have matching qualifications, or even when a male has somewhat better qualifications than a female candidate, “they should give priority to the female candidate,” Davidge said.
For retention, the emphasis was on providing a comfortable work environment. It was suggested women performing similar work be placed together on a job site. Other suggestions included provision of gender-specific clothing and safety equipment, on-site “diversity officers” and/or a diversity committee for the overall project, flexibility in work scheduling and posters on work sites showing men and women working together.
Kelly Hickey, a program development specialist with OAWA, told the commission accessible child care remains a significant barrier to employment for women.
She said the province has an estimated 6,772 child care spaces, but about 48,227 children with parents in the workforce. “It’s a situation that begs for more attention, more funds.”
To this, the OAWA has suggested the Hebron partners build a new daycare off site for children of workers at Bull Arm. When Hebron moves into its production phase, OAWA states, a daycare could also be built in St. John’s.
If built, the child care centres would become part of Hebron’s legacy, Hickey said, providing a space for children in the community with parents outside of the oil and gas workforce after the project is over.
Hebron project manager Geoff Parker was asked specifically if this suggestion might gain traction with the Hebron proponents.
“The project recognizes child care impacts our workforce and potential workforce and we will continue to participate in discussions with local organizations and governments on this issue,” he said.
Parker told commissioner Miller Ayre prioritizing hiring women was likely, in the most positive sense, a moot point.
“If we have two qualified people, I expect we’ll be employing them both, not choosing between one or the other,” he said.
On overall workforce diversity, Parker said there are provincial and federal regulations to encourage diversity, but ExxonMobil Canada’s own standards go beyond meeting these regulations.
He said recruitment is being supported by way of job advertising through women in trades organizations and outreach initiatives. Research grants, that might be funneled to investigations on work site gender issues, are being provided to Memorial University and the College of the North Atlantic.
Both the WRDC and OAWA representatives said they plan to follow the employment numbers during Hebron’s development.