June 27, 2012
Oilsands region already hit hard by acute skills shortage
While Canada is anticipating a skilled labour shortage in the next few years, the oilsands region of Alberta is experiencing one right now.
The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB), which includes the City of Fort McMurray, several rural communities and five First Nations, is home to Alberta’s booming oilsands and houses existing operations plus $100 billion in projects currently underway.
Oilsands investment/development is expected to generate $2.1 trillion in economic activity between 2010 and 2035.
The 2010 Municipal Census for the RMWB shows the total population expanded rapidly to 104,338 in 2010 from about 42,600 in 2000.
Forecasts from the municipality’s planning and development department predict that the area’s population might reach 205,000 by 2028.
“That need for skilled workers and proven solutions that are found in apprenticeship is our reality right now,” said Glenn van’t Wout, Keyano College dean of trades, during a presentation at the recent Canadian Apprenticeship Forum conference in Regina.
The Wood Buffalo Apprenticeship Forum was formally launched last fall.
The goal is to provide a collaborative forum, while enhancing access to regional opportunities and supporting apprenticeship stakeholders before, during and after an apprenticeship.
One of the few expectations for the forum was for increased engagement of stakeholders, leaders from government, business and industry, as well as parents and career counselors.
“We wanted apprenticeship marketing to do a little bit more for us — improve communication amongst stakeholders,” said Gwenneth Lauder, Suncor Energy learning advisor for apprenticeships.
“We would individually meet, we would go to events, but we just weren’t meeting as a collective group.”
The forum identified four main areas and created subcommittees to address demand, marketing, essential skills and the opportunities.
They added an Aboriginal subcommittee this winter.
She said that the forums work because stakeholders check their egos at the door.
There are no ranks or titles, no bylaws or elections.
They just set a few expectations.
“There was a common theme,” said Norm Steven of the Fort McMurray branch of Alberta Apprenticeship and Industry Training.
“We all were very concerned about the health and wellness and the future of our apprenticeship system in the northeast corner of the province.”
The official launch of the Wood Buffalo Apprenticeship Forum was Sept. 22, 2011 and Lauder said they have been able to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time by dividing up the work.
She said it’s also about big picture thinking.
“We’ve got to start realizing that we’re not just this little bubble in Northeast Alberta... we’re competing against like-minded individuals across the country,” she said.
“We don’t want to compete, we want to flood the market with enough apprentices to fill our journeymen requirements in a few years.”
She added that a culture of inclusion is key and that anyone with an interest in improving apprenticeships is invited.
The forum is close to understanding the collective need, said Lauder.
Lauder pointed to various studies that gave conflicting answers and did not identify specific trades demands.
She said they are going to a lot of effort to get the proper numbers and they will be ready for their conference this fall.
It’s important to speak with everyone, including children, said van’t Wout, adding that organizations should extend invitations to groups like Scouts and Girl Guides to visit various businesses in the trades.
“We need to invite those young ones into the shops and classrooms, into the union halls, see the excitement and passion you have for your trade...” he said.
“They need you. This isn’t about making money.”
The panel suggested that audience members see if a similar conversation could be held at their own local level.
“If you open up the conversation in your region, you never know what will take place,” said van’t Wout.
The Wood Buffalo Apprenticeship Forum will host Alberta Apprenticeship: The Future Works Here in Fort McMurray Oct. 15 to 17.
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