As Newfoundland and Labrador communities dependant on traditional industries like fishing and forestry have hit hard times, untold numbers of young people have left the communities, and ultimately the province, in search of meaningful employment.
Now, the hope is these workers will return home to Newfoundland and Labrador, to new opportunities with the offshore.
Monday, vice chair of Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industries Association’s board of directors, Mike Critch, told the Hebron Public Review Commission he can be counted among those who have moved away for work, developed skills relevant to the oil and gas industry and ultimately returned.
Critch spent time working on projects in Alberta, the North Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. He said, due to the development of the oil and gas industry in Newfoundland and Labrador, he was able to come home and continue to develop his career locally. He expressed his hope that, with the continued development of Hebron, others might have the opportunity to do the same.
“The oil and gas industry has revitalized the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador with each new offshore development,” he said.
In addressing the commission, Hebron project manager Geoff Parker expressed a desire of the Hebron project partners to see Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans away returning to work on the project, helping to fill current gaps in the local labour pool.
However, “no one’s really too sure how much of that is going to happen,” he said.
No one disputed that there were gaps in the labour pool.
Commissioner of the Hebron public review, Miller Ayre, said Newfoundland and Labrador was apparently a skilled shortage “hot spot” within Canada.
In their submission to the Hebron Public Review Commission, the St. John’s Board of Trade highlighted an aging local workforce and warned against the “demographic wave,” set to hit first in Atlantic Canada, affecting the availability of experienced workers. In addition, the board stated there was an existing “skills mismatch,” wherein many available workers did not have the training needed to be effective on the Hebron project.
The board has stated labour availability remains a “significant risk to the project.”
Project leaders at ExxonMobil Canada said the labour needs for the project would be met. The project manager, Parker, said the Hebron partners are looking at all options available to them in order to address the local labour shortage.
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One of those options is attracting workers home from away. Other options include tapping traditionally “underutilized” sectors of the workforce, such as tradeswomen and workers with disabilities, and bringing in available workers from other parts of Canada, the United States and other international areas, progressively.
“The mechanism is there within that labour agreement that if we have to draw on that pool we could,” Parker said.
The St. John’s Board of Trade has recommended more resources go to immigration, but immigration is a federal jurisdiction and what might be done to speed up the process at the provincial level remains unclear.
“That’s something we haven’t figured out yet,” said Craig Ennis, the board’s vice president of policy and communications.
Meanwhile, the board has publicly encouraged changes that facilitate training of available local workers, such as the recent move by the Provincial Apprentices Certification Board to allow two apprentices to a single journey person mentor without one of the two trainees having to be in their final year of training, as had previously been the case.
That policy is up for review in the spring of 2012 and the board would like to see the change made permanent.
The trainees of today have the potential for finding work with Hebron subcontractors towards the end of the approximately five-year development phase of the project.
Locals might also look to work within the estimated 30-year operational life of the project.
It is estimated the provincial oil and gas industry currently, directly employs over 4,000 people, increasing to about 17,000 when spinoff employment is included, according to the Canadian Energy Research Institute. The question being considered now is where the numbers might stand post-Hebron.
More is expected to be said on the subject as the Hebron Public Review Commission continues its public consultation sessions.