Canadian Manufacturing

Canadian resource mega-projects should consider U.S. workers to fill labour gap: study

Alberta has been at the forefront of a strategy to recruit U.S. workers, particularly for resource projects



OTTAWA—Labour-starved employers should take a short look south to American workers to fill job openings, according to the latest report issued by The Conference Board of Canada.

Alberta, which faces the most severe skills shortage in Canada, launched a pilot project that brought nearly 1,000 highly-skilled U.S. workers into the province.

Alberta has been at the forefront of a strategy to recruit U.S. workers, particularly for resource projects, but Saskatchewan and Manitoba are also facing labour shortages.

The study, published by the Conference Board’s Global Commerce Centre, examines Alberta’s successful strategy to recruit US workers and discusses lessons that may apply to other provinces and regions.

Some lessons learned:
• There is no simple mechanism to bring in U.S. workers.
• Resource projects require different approaches to workforce planning because they involve short, intense bursts of activity in geographically dispersed regions.
• The Temporary Foreign Worker Program is a band-aid for skills shortages, but it is not a panacea or a long-term solution.

“With 50,000 unfilled vacancies and more than double that number expected within a decade, the labour and skills shortage has a direct impact on Alberta’s ability to develop its resource and energy sector. That is not just a regional problem, it affects our national economic prospects as well,” said Laura Dawson, author of the study, titledSkills in Motion: U.S. Workers May Hold the Key to Canada’s Skills Shortage.

Many Alberta employers consider U.S. workers to be ideal to fill Canadian vacancies because they have comparable training and experience. In addition, they understand the language and work culture, can enter Canada without a visa, and live nearby.

Nevertheless, there is no simple mechanism for Canada to bring in U.S. workers in skilled trades. For example, the North American Free Trade Agreement does not allow mutual recognition between Canada and U.S. for regulated trades and professions.

The Alberta Occupation-Specific Pilot was launched in 2012, and has already allowed nearly 1,000 highly-skilled U.S. workers to enter the province. Alberta’s Department of Apprenticeship and Industry Training has stepped in to provide its own evaluation of workers’ foreign credentials and experience. The province has launched a recruitment campaign in the United States. Alberta employers are also targeting Canadian and American veterans of the armed forces.

Employers should, of course, look close to home for skilled labour first, but recognize that domestic sources are rarely enough to meet demand for workers for resource mega-projects.

Governments, businesses, and unions need to do more than simply allow temporary workers in—they must work together to recognize credentials and eliminate unnecessary barriers to worker certification.

You may obtain the report for a fee at the Conference Board of Canada site.

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