There is a shortage of workers in certain skilled trades within the province and within the country, resulting in international hires to cover the labour needs on large projects.
This labour shortage was part of the government’s throne speech, as the provincial House of Assembly opened this week.
The speech Monday promised a new Workforce Development Secretariat for the province and programs, supported in this year’s budget, to help local trades apprentices move to certified journeyperson status in their chosen trades.
Yet not all major projects happening in this province will benefit from the increased availability of local skilled labour.
In a January 2012 newsletter, Vale manager of human resources, Jackie Lamonthe, said the amount of workers now needed for the hydromet plant at Long Harbour “are simply not available, neither in Newfoundland and Labrador nor in Canada.”
According to Bob Carter, manager of corporate relations for Vale, there are 1,900 to 2,000 tradespeople currently working at the site.
“When you add in the contractors and engineering, we’re pretty close to 2,500, 2,600,” he said, noting the numbers are continually changing. He estimated the number would grow to roughly 3,500 by the summer.
Some of those workers will come from other countries.
“We have identified an acute shortage in a number of the skilled trades. And our arrangements at the site are with the building trades council, the resource development council (RDC) and they are the umbrella which represents all of the (16) trade unions,” he said.
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“Thus far we’ve been able to supply the site through the RDC and its member unions in Newfoundland. There are a number of people working on site who have what are called travel permits, so there again members of the same union but they’re from outside the province,” Carter said.
Even with the national union hires, the company is expecting shortages.
“We have not brought in anybody thus far from outside the country. We’ve been lucky in being able to source them both locally and through the member unions in Canada, but as we move closer to that peak (in construction), if the local and then the national unions can’t supply them, we have to look elsewhere,” he said.
Hebron Public Review Commissioner Miller Ayre spelled out the labour challenges for the offshore oil and gas installation in his report on project benefits, released at the end of February.
The bulk of Hebron construction is expected in 2013 and 2014.
With workers on all major projects typically being fourth-year apprentices or journeypersons, Ayre highlighted the significance of provincial apprentices overcoming any obstacles to their educational advancement in order to maximize local benefits.
It is, he said, simply more attractive for companies to bring in already qualified workers than to train local workers. It is also more efficient.
He made note of efforts made to date by the provincial government towards increasing the number of qualified skilled tradespeople available.
“Although promising, these achievements are not expected to close the gaps in the supply of skilled trades already evident in some industries,” he stated.
While he asked the Hebron project partners supply a detailed breakdown of labour requirements, a rough skilled trades assessment was provided to the commission — charting categories of trades, estimates on the number of available workers and anticipated demand.
The colours red, yellow and green are used to show where outside workers would likely be required in order to complete the scheduled work. The majority of trades — from various types of engineers to construction inspectors and mechanical trades — are marked with yellow and red.
Yet there is no expected shortage noted for electricians, structural trades or “GBS Concrete” work — all receiving green marks.
Ayre echoes the charting in his report, stating the anticipated local labour shortage for Hebron does not span all trades being represented by the RDC unions.
“The problems experienced by each trade need to be closely examined in order to devise individualized solutions to problems of education, accreditation and meaningful employment,” he wrote.
He has recommended the oil companies within the Hebron partnership “hold strategic planning meetings with stakeholders to address the skilled labour shortfalls.”
In addressing the provincial Public Utilities Board (PUB) on Feb. 13, Nalcor Energy CEO Ed Martin made no mention of concerns over the supply of skilled labour for the Muskrat Falls project, assuming it receives final approvals from government.
“In the province, you know, we have a strong workforce. I refer back to some of the large projects that have been occurring here, and we are one of the few jurisdictions in the country and in North America, again who has had a steady stream of large projects and it goes from Hibernia, to Terra Nova, to White Rose, to Voisey’s Bay, to the Vale Plant, and what we’ve seen is the development of a labour force that’s skilled in large projects,” he said.
“We know they’re available, we know that the workforce is skilled and has the ability to produce these projects.”
Nalcor’s Lower Churchill project director, Paul Harrington, also spent time before the PUB.
He said Nalcor has identified the project’s labour needs.
“We provided that information to Government, so that they could then implement training schemes within their jurisdiction to try and meet the requirements of not only Lower Churchill Project, but indeed lots of other projects that were on the go.”
The company has started training “over 350 people” in Labrador, through an aboriginal partnership agreement. Underutilized workforces are being eyed.
In 2008, a consultant out of the University of Calgary was engaged by the company to help develop an action plan for project productivity.
Nalcor has also surveyed special project agreements across Canada, including the labour agreement with RDC governing Vale’s project.
“We’re in the process of going to enter into those negotiations with the appropriate union bodies,” Harrington told the PUB.
Welcoming international workers
As Lt.-Gov. John Crosbie read the Speech from the Throne, he read out the bottom line for the current skilled labour shortage.
“While we will work vigorously to ensure Newfoundlanders and Labradorians benefit first and fully from these employment opportunities, other workers will also be required,” he said.
“As people move here from outside the province to meet labour market needs, we will welcome them with open arms, encouraging them to sink down deep roots and make Newfoundland and Labrador home.”