Trades traffic between provinces affecting Newfoundland and Labrador
In this file photo, members of the media are given a tour of the wastewater treatment facility in St. John’s. With skilled trades apprentices out of work or leaving for other provinces, and a crunch on skilled labour, it is feared wages for tradespeople here will go up, making projects like this one more expensive. — Telegram file photo
Final in a three-part series
The Government of Alberta published a fact sheet on apprenticeship training and the skilled trades in November, showing the leadership role that province has assumed when it comes to training tradespeople.
“Alberta has about 11 per cent of Canada’s labour force; however, industry in Alberta hires and trains more than 20 per cent of the country’s apprentices,” according to Facts and Figures: Advanced Education and Technology.
“Since the inception of the Interprovincial Standards Red Seal (journeyperson) program over 50 years ago, Alberta has issued 29 per cent of all Red Seals in Canada.”
Today, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador estimates about 20,000 people (seven to eight per cent of our total workforce) were considered “mobile workers” between January 2009 and March 2010.
Of that mobile workforce — according to Human Resources, Labour and Employment’s Outlook 2020 — between 7,890 and 10,600 “worked or had worked” in Alberta.
Of the out-of-work apprentices here who have spoken to The Telegram for this series, all have said they have considered moving to Alberta for work.
“We recognize that some apprentices do go to Alberta and we’ve made some significant changes as well to be able to accommodate people to make sure that they can still remain attached to the system that we have here in this province,” Advanced Education and Skills Minister Joan Burke recently told The Telegram.
Apprentices are registered provincially, meaning local apprentices can only gain the credit hours they require to advance if they are signed off on within this province. However, an exception exists for work hours competed in Alberta.
In a 2007 deal done under the Williams government — acknowledging the wave of skilled trainees already leaving for high-paying jobs in the oilsands — it was agreed hours logged by apprentices in Alberta would be transferrable to Newfoundland and Labrador.
Working there, you earn credit here.
The idea was that apprentice-level workers might choose to return home as they move into the latter years of their training. The thinking was the decision would be made easier by the fact they would not have to start from scratch on their training hours.
The deal also made the decision to leave for Alberta easier for those stalled in their skills training here.
Wages and the Alberta shuffle
For people who want to move back home, the limited availability of housing and child care can be obstacles.
And while there is a need for the labour apprentices can provide, some local employers are wary of hiring them for extended contracts, figuring they might have to return to school for a block of class time when the company needs them the most.
Other employers feel they need people more experienced in the project tasks in order to cover the high volume of work coming in.
Still other employers have no journeypersons in the trade to sign off on apprentices’ hours.
Wages offered for apprentices and journeypersons in Alberta (see sidebar) can be enough to keep end-year apprentices from returning home.
Looking at the employers’ side of the pay issue, St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe told the Hebron Public Review Commission the cumulative needs resulting from major construction projects in the province have raised concerns for the city.
With the project work to date, there has been new housing, hotels, recreation facilities, office space and upgrades on roads and other infrastructure, he said.
The concern now, he said, is a sudden rise in labour cost for city workers.
On that note, any trades wage hike — pushed by skilled worker scarcity and the asking prices of apprentices and journeypersons used to Alberta wages — would also affect tender offers by contractors who are supplying the city with work.
“It will bring challenges. It is bringing challenges as we gather here today,” the mayor said.
Meanwhile, a now retired Bill Gaulton sees apprentices as the “diamonds in the rough” with the potential to help overcome some of those challenges.
Having worked on getting more local workers in on the Hibernia project, Gaulton said apprentices are a resource the province needs to tap, before the opportunities created by our latest megaprojects pass us by.
In finding a way to take the recent flood of new apprentices, draw in local and credit apprentices in other provinces, and move all of them forward in their training, this province will have the benefit of a larger pool of skilled labourers once the megaprojects are done.
Exactly how any of that can be accomplished is now in the hands of the new Department of Advanced Education and Skills and the department is conscious of the challenges, Burke has said.
“We know that apprenticeship is not all about government. It’s about the individuals. It’s about the unions. It’s about the employers. It’s about our outlook as a province. So we need to make sure we all understand what’s going on and we work together.”
This story has been updated