VANCOUVER — Western Canadian construction companies that are struggling to hire highly skilled workers will be offering jobs to almost 500 skilled Irish trades people, following a recruitment drive in Dublin and Belfast.
The job fairs were organized by the B.C. Construction Association and drew about 800 people in Belfast Oct. 31 and about 2,000 others in Dublin Nov. 2, said Abigail Fulton, vice-president of the B.C. Construction Association.
Looking to hire were 28 companies mostly from B.C. and Saskatchewan, although two came from Alberta, added Fulton.
A college and two construction associations also set up booths at the event.
“These are highly skilled positions, in specific trades where there are critical shortages, and these people, for the most part, particularly in B.C., are coming in as permanent residents,” said Fulton.
The B.C. government has predicted there will be more than one-million job openings in the province over the next decade, and more than 153,000 of those will be among trades, transport, equipment operators and related occupations.
But there is also an immediate need for workers and Ireland appears to have a surplus, especially after its economy crashed in 2008. In fact, Fulton has said previously that one job fair last year drew 20,000 people.
Employers attending this year’s job fairs were looking for skilled workers like heavy-duty mechanics and metal fabricators, said Fulton, and she expects there’ll be about 484 job offers — and half of those will be made by employers subject to collective agreements. “This is not just a case, you know, low wages to non-union jobs.”
Many of the recruits will be coming to Canada under British Columbia’s provincial nominee program, which allows the province to bring in immigrants and their families on a permanent basis, she added.
The turnout was lower than past job fairs, she added, because these events focused on the construction trades, Fulton said.
Attending the job fairs was Mark Cooper, president of the Saskatchewan Construction Association Inc.
Like in B.C., employers in Saskatchewan are having problems finding skilled and experienced workers locally and they’re even finding it difficult to recruit workers from the rest of Canada, he said.
“We needed to find markets where they’re available, and Ireland is one of those with a high number of skilled, experienced workers, so we felt it was a good market to go.”
Twelve Saskatchewan companies attended the job fairs, and the construction association screened candidates for another dozen companies.
Tom Sigurdson, executive director of the British Columbia and Yukon Territory Building and Construction Trades Council, said last month before the recruitment drive that unionized workers are available, but some companies just don’t want to hire them, so they turn to other sources.
Jessica McDonald, a former deputy minister to former premier Gordon Campbell, is currently completing a review of Industry Training Authority, the organization that oversees trades training in the province.
McDonald’s final report is expected to be submitted by the end of November.
One B.C. firm that travelled to Ireland was Stinger Welding Ltd. of Prince George, B.C., which serves the construction, mining and forest industries.
For Will Manson, the company’s president and owner, the trip to Ireland as an employer was his second, and he was looking for skilled workers, especially those with partners or families, not temporary workers.
Stinger employs apprentices, he added, but it needs highly skilled workers to train them, and he doesn’t think the current system can train them fast enough.
Without the job fairs, companies are forced to “poach” workers from each other, he added.
One candidate is already in Canada and will start work in Prince George Tuesday, said Manson.
Meantime, Craig Sampson, a 57-year-old apprentice from Port Alberni, B.C., said he’s finding it hard to find a company to take him on, even though he began looking for work back in May.
Sampson said he earned a 98.5 per cent average on a 28-week welding course that cost him $2,000 in tuition and ended the second week of October.
“This is not a case of somebody who just barely scraped through, not being able to, you know, hold up his end kind of thing,” he said.
Sampson said he has pounded the pavement locally, but the central Vancouver Island city is small, and when he sends out inquiries to companies located out of town he receives computer-generated thank-you responses.
During one trip up Island to look for a job, an employer’s countenance changes as soon as he learned Sampson was an apprentice.
“He was glad to see the back of me, like, he wanted me out.”
Labour leaders in B.C. have already gone on record, saying they think there’s enough Canadians and British Columbians to fill the vacant positions.