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Irish construction workers in demand in Western Canada

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by Peter Caulfield

Unskilled foreign workers in Western Canada have been a staple in the news lately. But many skilled foreign workers have also relocated to the four western provinces, especially B.C. and Alberta. Many work in the construction industry, and many originate in such not-so-foreign countries as Ireland.

Unskilled foreign workers in Western Canada have been a staple in the news lately. But many skilled foreign workers have also relocated to the four western provinces, especially B.C. and Alberta. Many work in the construction industry, and many originate in such not-so-foreign countries as Ireland.

Dan Tinnelly, a structural engineer fromfrom Dublin, has worked for Bird Construction as a project coordinator since mid-2013.

“After I arrived in Canada in 2009, I worked for almost four years as a ports and marine engineer,” Tinnelly said. “But that industry was quite slow-paced, and I felt like I was wasting my career. So I decided to move to the contractor side of the table.”

Tinnelly says he has found the transition from the Irish to the Canadian construction industries quite smooth.

“The main difference was having to become accustomed to the Canadian codes and standards and to the use of Imperial measurements here,” he said. “The codes and standards were easy enough to get the hang of, but Imperial units took me longer.”

Tinnelly says one of the differences between the two construction industries which he noticed is the greater use of technology and time- and labor-saving techniques in the Irish construction industry.

“During the Celtic Tiger (average nine percent annual economic growth in Ireland 1995-2000), the construction industry in Ireland was in overdrive,” he said. “It acquired a lot of pioneering cost- and time-saving techniques, including some very modern software, to keep up with the demands on it.”

Most of the advanced Irish construction methods were based on modularisation and prefabrication techniques.

“Whole rooms would be shipped to site pre-finished in pods,” he said. “They were placed in position and the electricity and water was connected. This would cost more money, but it would save significant amounts of time on-site.”

In contrast, Tinnelly says, the Canadian construction industry hasn’t had to face the same demands on it as in Ireland, and has relied on traditional construction techniques.

Tinnelly moved to Canada on a one-year working holiday visa.

One reason why Tinnelly decided to try his luck in Canada was that just after he got his visa in late 2008, the Irish construction industry hit the skids.

“That made the decision to leave all the easier,” Tinnelly said. “I got a job within a week of arriving in Vancouver and my employer processed my Provincial Nomination Program and permanent residency almost straight away. That made the decision to stay a simple one.”

Tinnelly says he found his job with Bird through Moving2Canada Recruitment, a Vancouver-based employment agency.

Moving2Canada principal Ruairi Spillane says Irish professionals are “everywhere” in the Canadian construction industry. <0x000A>“I know engineers who have relocated to Prince George, Yellowknife, Saskatoon, Newfoundland,” he said.

“Calgary and Edmonton have become the most popular locations in recent years, due to lots of young families and tradespeople immigrating. But Vancouver and Toronto still have the largest Irish communities in Canada.”

The main job categories Moving2Canada deals in are project managers, project coordinators, estimators, civil and structural engineers. Their typical employers are general contractors, consulting engineers, and, in a few cases, sub-contractors. Spillane has found Irish professionals easy to place.

“The building codes, practices and culture are both similar,” he said. “In addition, there are many Irish construction professionals for hire. Before the downturn, it was a safe profession to enter.”

Spillane says the education requirements of construction professionals are similar in both countries.

“Ireland is at least as good as Canada,” he said.

“And Ireland has a four-year university course in quantity surveying, used by estimators, which is not offered in Canada.”

Since February 27, 2009, Engineers Canada has had a mutual recognition agreement with Engineers Ireland, ratified by The Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC. Between 2010 and June 2014, 101 engineers with Irish degrees registered with the association.

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