Originally published in The OE News, Fall 2013 Edition
Imagine that the only chance to develop a $100 billion industry, create over 100,000 new jobs, and collect billions in taxes to pay down the debt and fund healthcare and education all depended on just one thing: finding skilled workers.
That’s exactly the situation facing British Columbia today with the development of Liquefied Natural Gas, according to a new industry and government report. And failure to act quickly means this huge opportunity could go to competitors in other parts of the world, something B.C. workers are not unfamiliar with or happy about.
The enormous potential of LNG is outlined in the “B.C. Natural Gas Workforce Strategy and Action Plan”—as is the significant challenge of finding and training enough skilled workers for a wide variety of jobs needed to succeed.
That’s why IUOE Local 115 Business Manager Brian Cochrane and other labour leaders and representatives recently met with B.C. Premier Christy Clark to discuss how unions and organized labour providers can participate in dramatically increasing skilled trades training in just a few short years, to meet the demand that is expected to accompany the government’s LNG development plans.
Fortunately, the IUOE Local 115 is well placed to help provide some of those skilled workers, as well as train and upgrade other workers to fill some of the estimated 62,000 jobs in construction of LNG plants and ongoing operations in northern B.C. Aggressive recruitment and training plans were topics of discussion, and Local 115 are already taking preliminary steps to start creating a preferred, skilled resource pool to call on when the projects break ground.
To put it mildly, the size and scope of LNG jobs and investment potential is literally staggering. to help provide some of those skilled workers, as well as train and upgrade other workers to fill some of the estimated 62,000 jobs in construction of LNG plants and ongoing operations in northern B.C. Aggressive recruitment and training plans were topics of discussion, and Local 115 are already taking preliminary steps to start creating a preferred, skilled resource pool to call on when the projects break ground.
The northern B.C. projects would require over 62,000 jobs to be filled during peak construction (expected by 2017)—just a few short years from now. There would be over 21,000 jobs in direct construction created by building the plants and associated pipelines, and another 41,000 jobs in industries supplying goods and services during the construction phase. Once the LNG projects are fully operational, it is expected 75,000 jobs will be created overall in running the plants and supplying them.
So what does this mean for IUOE Local 115 members, as well as other workers and unions? Basically, a huge demand for skilled workers in northern B.C., including many of the trades represented by Local 115 in a variety of B.C. workplaces, especially for those willing to relocate northwards (this is one of the biggest challenges that the projects must address).
But that demand is far bigger than anything our union, or indeed all B.C. unions can provide right now – and that’s why the immediate need is to put in place measures to solve the massive skills shortage the province faces.
But that problem is not a new one. It’s actually surprising that labour and Liberal leaders only met a few weeks ago, when the issue of skilled labour shortages across the province have been so prevalent and well documented by both sides, not only for future projects, but right now. As the LNG Action Plan bluntly states: “Bottom line: As it stands, northern B.C.’s labour force will simply not be able to meet the labour demand generated by the growth of the province’s natural gas industry. A plan to address all the factors impacting labour and skills shortfalls is urgently required.”
The B.C. Building Trades and Local 115 have pointed out for years that the provincial government has not done an adequate job in the past with skills training and apprenticeships. Finally, it’s not just unions ringing the alarm bell—it’s the government and their commissioned industry reports joining the call for more investment into trades occupations. Simply recognizing the problem is welcome news; the report carries on to say: “Many of the workers the natural gas industry will need from northern B.C. will require skills training and upgrading. Some capacity exists for expanding the current apprenticeship training infrastructure in the northern regions. Nevertheless, new approaches are needed to ensure the ongoing supply of trained workers.”
Maybe it’s the LNG projects. Maybe it’s was the scare the NDP recently gave Premier Christy Clark during campaigning. Or maybe it’s the recent shuffle in the Liberal leadership. Either way, we are seeing significant and positive developments: the invitation by Premier Clark to meet on an ongoing basis, while embryonic and with little concrete commitments as yet, is an olive branch both parties may just be able to build a mutually beneficial relationship on. Meanwhile, changes in the leadership of the Industry Training Authority (the government organization responsible for skilled trades training and apprenticeships) could promise a change from its historical inability to recognize and rectify the skilled worker development problems that we now have to deal with today.
The LNG Action Plan is clear that skilled workers from other parts of BC will also be needed. “In terms of attracting migrants from other regions of B.C., areas such as the Vancouver Island/Coast, Thompson/Okanagan and Kootenay all have an industrial and occupational base that is transferable to the natural gas and heavy industrial construction industry.”
While the report doesn’t go so far as to discuss in detail the possibility of bringing in workers from outside of Canada, it does contemplate the subject—an inevitable challenge which remains for both labour and government.
As we learned with the Temporary Foreign Workers being appointed at the HD Mining coal mine project in Tumbler Ridge, and with close public and media attention on the TFW program and its promises and changes, this is an area where decision-makers will have to tread lightly. That’s why Local 115 and the labour movement will be vigilant in protecting the rights of B.C. and Canadian workers to be first in line for LNG jobs. But even in this regard Premier Clark has agreed, saying that sourcing skills from outside Canada, or even B.C., are “last resort” options.
By working cooperatively and developing an equal partner relationship between industry, governments, and labour, the LNG sector could provide the biggest single boost in jobs for our union, and the province, for generations—and that’s nothing but good news for everyone.
– Bill Tieleman, West Star Communications