Canadian Manufacturing

Workers lured back East as oilsands jobs dry up

Irving Shipbuilding is hosting a one-day job fair in Fort McMurray, Alta., to hire as many as 200 industrial workers

FORT MCMURRAY, Alta.—An East Coast company is putting a twist on the usual job recruitment strategy, coming to Alberta’s oilsands capital in an effort to lure workers back to the Maritimes.

Irving Shipbuilding is hosting a one-day job fair in Fort McMurray, Alta., to hire as many as 200 journeymen, welders, pipefitters, fabricators and iron workers.

The company recently won a $25-billion contract to build ships for the Royal Canadian Navy, a deal the federal government has said will provide full-time work in the region for 30 years.

Mary Keith, vice-president of communications for parent company J.D. Irving Ltd., says there are many Maritimers with the experience and skills they need who had moved to Alberta for oil jobs.

Keith says there are probably a number of Albertans who also “might like to try life on the East Coast.”

Irving’s jobs could be a big draw in Fort McMurray, where unemployment has surpassed the national average and is more than double what it was this time last year.

At Irving’s recent job fair in Halifax, Keith says a handful of the 600 job hunters who showed up had come directly from the airport after returning from Alberta, where they’ve been working.

Their families drove them to the fair, in hopes they’d get a job that would bring them home.

Like the oil industry, shipbuilding has been plagued by economic boom and bust, but this contract is a “generational commitment,” Keith says.

Besides the journeymen and tradespeople for the shipyard, J.D. Irving is also looking for professionals in finance, IT and human resources for other parts of its mammoth operation, which includes pulp, paper, lumber, rail and the Cavendish Farms potato processing plant in Lethbridge, Alta.

Keith says the company expects to make 7,900 hires from now until the end of 2017.

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