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View from the Board - Looking at where the workers will come from

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by Tom Sigurdson last update:Sep 3, 2014

In the late 1980s, Hollywood produced the movie Field of Dreams. Perhaps the most famous line from the movie was "if you build it, he will come."
Tom Sigurdson
Tom Sigurdson

 

In the late 1980s, Hollywood produced the movie Field of Dreams. Perhaps the most famous line from the movie was "if you build it, he will come."

And, with that understanding Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner, began building a baseball diamond in the middle of his Iowa cornfield.

In present day British Columbia there are a number of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) proponents, who are keen to develop the BC LNG industry, but it begs the question: If they come, will we build it?

At the present time, there are 12 proponents, who are considering LNG investment.

The value of investment is in the multiple tens of billions of dollars.

Each of the projects will require, at peak construction, thousands of our skilled members to bring their talents to the job.

While it is highly unlikely all projects will proceed, it is very likely that within a few years a few proponents will begin construction.

But then, what will happen?

If there is no plan to schedule the development of multi-projects, there will be chaos throughout our industry.

When Australia began to develop their LNG industry, various project proponents jumped in all at once, which created a logistical nightmare for everyone involved.

For Australian skilled tradespeople, the sudden explosion of work opportunities was quite frankly, out of control.

The number of foreign workers required to bring projects to completion was, on some projects, a staggering 50 per cent of the total workforce. That’s 50 per cent!

We cannot allow a similar situation to occur in B.C.

Whenever the final investment decisions are made and whatever projects proceed, there will be an increased demand for skilled trades.

Along with thousands of construction jobs, there will be opportunities for young people to begin and complete their apprenticeship over the course of LNG development.

But, these opportunities for employment and apprenticeship completions must benefit British Columbians first and foremost. After all, the resource belongs to everyone in B.C.

We in construction well understand that we are a mobile workforce. We move from job to job regardless of where that job may be. It is not uncommon for us to find work anywhere in our province, or indeed anywhere in Canada.

On occasion, we may even take our skills south of the border or overseas to work on projects.

Such is the nature of the industry. We move to where the work is – especially when our local economy is not able to provide us with work to support our families.

When LNG developments get underway we will most certainly crew the jobs with British Columbians first (and make equally certain we are providing training and employment opportunities for First Nations and British Columbians residing in the project areas).

Our second source for skilled workers will come from the rest of Canada. Should we not be able to fill the demand for skilled trades from across Canada, we will turn to our traditional source, which is from our fraternal union locals in the United States. For some proponents, and indeed for some politicians, they already look to import some of the workforce from off-shore.

While there may come a time for that eventuality, we need to be very clear about when and how off-shore workers come to B.C.

The “when” is at a time in the project, where the supply of skilled British Columbian, Canadian and U.S. travellers has been exhausted. The “how” is that when a worker comes to any project we are crewing, they come under the same terms and conditions that we enjoy.

In short, contractors cannot and will not be able to import and exploit a foreign workforce to develop the LNG industry in B.C. There are opportunities and challenges.

We will continue to address the challenges so we can maximize the opportunities for British Columbians first.

Tom Sigurdson is the executive director of the British Columbia/Yukon Territory Building and Construction Trades Council. Tom is also a member of the Journal of Commerce Editorial Advisory Board. Send comments or questions to editor@journalofcommerce.com.

last update:Sep 3, 2014

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