Skilled labour shortage may impact projects

A shortage of skilled workers and ways to train workers may drive up costs for construction projects being planned in the Northwest, and limit opportunities for local residents.

A shortage of skilled workers and ways to train workers may drive up costs for construction projects being planned in the Northwest, and limit opportunities for local residents.

So says a report summarizing labour market information gathered to date by the Northwest Transmission Line (NTL) Labour Market Project Steering Committee.

The committee, comprised of a wide range of stakeholders from government, industry, education, economic development and non-profits, was formed by BC Hydro as part of the NTL Labour Market Partnerships project, designed to capture the benefits of the NTL for Northwest B.C.

Rick Brouwer, executive director for the Skeena-Nass Center for Innovation in Resource Economics (SNCIRE), is a member of the committee and says the report confirms there are labour and training issues in the region that need to be addressed quickly.

“There are thousands of short and long term jobs and billions of dollars in projects coming to the Northwest region and the NTL will enable even more opportunities, but the information in this report shows that we are not prepared.”

Brouwer said, “Many of the jobs coming to our area require specialized skills, and during the economic downturn we had no way of funding training for future opportunities. Now the future is arriving and we need to ensure opportunities are available for our local residents, people who are committed to living in Northwest B.C. regardless of the state of the global economy.”

The report says importing skilled workers from outside the region will drive up project costs due to employee turnover, search costs, and competition with other areas like Fort McMurray.

The report also suggests that there will also be problems for communities due to increased demand on community social, cultural, administrative, education and health services that are resourced only for a core population.

“It’s not too late,” says Brouwer, “If we take action now and increase training and service capacity within our region, most of the upcoming projects will be able to limit their reliance on non-resident workers, creating long term stability and avoiding social issues.

The steering committee report suggests that by focusing targeted training toward local unemployed and under-employed workers, we can get them into the labour market where they can continue to build their skills, and the projects can fill much of their labour needs locally.”

The NTL committee is now working on a human resource strategy for training capacity.

“The social service issues are outside the scope of the steering committee,” notes Brouwer.

Skeena-Nass Center for Innovation in Resource Economics is working with other regional leaders to find solutions to the urgent matter of overall regional stability.

“With quick action and provincial government support we can create a sustainable situation that benefits the entire Northwest.”