Prince Albert face labour shortage

Jodi Schellenberg
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With more than 800 jobs available on saskjobs.ca, the Prince Albert region is facing some labour challenges.

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“Definitely labour challenges continue to be a problem, not only for our city but for our region, even across Saskatchewan,” Prince Albert and District Chamber of Commerce CEO Merle Lacert said. “Of course, we will always see fluctuations in the amount of jobs that are available.”

Lacert said it is possible many of the increases in available jobs may be seasonal and there are some projects that have a higher demand than others.

“In some cases some employers may use job ads as part of their process,” Lacert said. “If they are working into a labour market opinion they will post a job and then see what results they get to qualify a labour market opinion.”

He explained that employers may put up a job posting for a position and if they do not get any applicants use that information to verify there is an issue recruiting for that position. They may use it to move to other recruitment strategies, such as immigration.

“Basically the government requires that is a company is looking at perhaps using immigration they need to really define that the vacancy exists and they can’t recruit for it,” Lacert said. “You will also see a number of employers maybe having a higher degree of ads consistently available but they are really doing it for proving the need versus active recruitment.

“Otherwise, definitely trying to address the recruitment challenges continues,” he added. “There is no quick fix and I’m not even sure if there are real solutions in sight in the near future.”

Whether they’re in a city, province or region, Lacert said all employers need to continue to look at different job recruitment strategies.

“Most of those strategies pertain to skills training because there is where a lot of the shortages do exist is in skilled or semi-skilled work,” Lacert said. “It is really training a workforce to meet the needs that we have and we need to make more efforts.

“I know the governments, federally and provincially, continue to put out different initiatives that will support building skills,” Lacert said. “Again, I think we need to think about any partnerships, collaborations, specifically First Nations. With First Nations there is an able bodies work force that we should be engaging more and that again might be looking at some of the skills training needs to take better advantage of that labour force.”

There are concerns with having difficulties recruiting both unskilled and skilled labour, Lacert mentioned. Both have an impact on the community.

“If we, as a community or region, are experiencing a lot of shortages in recruiting unskilled positions, we are going to see immediate impact whether it be gas stations or restaurant service, you are likely to see difficulties delivering those services and that is just because they cannot actively recruit enough bodies to meet their need,” Lacert said. “That is simply for more of the unskilled jobs or frontline jobs.”

Skilled labour is a different story, with a different set of challenges, especially with high demand jobs such as electricians and power engineers.

“Those have become the top (jobs) in demand across Canada, across Saskatchewan and of course Prince Albert,” Lacert said. “That area is compounded because people that work in those trades can literally find in today’s word they can probably live anywhere and work anywhere.”

He said a great example of that is Fort McMurray -- many skilled labours who work in Fort McMurray live in various places across Canada, flying into their job sites for weeks at a time and fly back home during their weeks off.

“It has amplified that competition for those skilled trade,” Lacert said. “Literally then Saskatchewan is trying to compete to attract those trades as is Prince Albert.

“When Prince Albert tries to compete for those trades, other things come up such as the size of our community, the number of services, the types of arts, types of education centres that we have available,” he added. “When we then have to compete with centres such as Saskatoon and Regina, we don’t fair so well.”

There could also be long-term effects of that competition as well, he said.

“On the skilled side again, there can definitely be longer term impacts because if we need power engineers as the mill was looking for to start their operations, if we can’t get it we can definitely set them back for years,” Lacert said. “If it did, it would set us back as a community for growth.”

Recently, the Chamber has been working on a job summit to help deal with some of the issues the Prince Albert region faces.

“I think some of our next steps of course is continuing with education but really looking to see what we can create for partnerships here,” Lacert said. “There is much I think we could still do to create more effective partnerships.”

The round table discussions they have had to collect information have confirmed what challenges do exist and they have tried to come up with new strategies.

“Some of the strategies we talked about were really just recruitment strategies which really help employers recruit more effectively, but at the same time I guess if you simply cannot connect or reach the labour force you need all the recruitment efforts may not help,” Lacert said. “It is a really big problem that is definitely take collaboration from all levels.”

The federal government is working on some job grant programs and Lacert hopes they will become easier to use and directly meet the needs of employers.

“We will also be looking to the Saskatchewan government to see what initiatives they come up with and again whether that be to put them multi-tiered,” Lacert said. “I know, as with every year in their budget, they will decide certain dollars for training and they do focus on sectors, so they might send aside some training dollars to focus on First Nation and Métis people to enhance those skills.”

Lacert said that labour shortages will continue to be a long-term problem, not just in Prince Albert but the country.

“Our peak for labour shortage is set for the summer between 2016 to 2018,” Lacert said. “As bad as it is now, unless we get very effective at solutions it is likely to get worse.”

One thing that may help Prince Albert is the reopening of the pulp mill.

“If they could recruit the positions where they are needed, of course it is going to help,” Lacert said, because in most cases with skilled trades in Prince Albert likely any new power engineers employed in the area would be new people coming to the area specifically for employment.

“If we care to try to attract those people then it will help the businesses continue to growth that they seek and it will help with the population growth in our city and our region,” he added. “Sometimes, once you start to accumulate some of those skill sets, it may attract others meaning … A lot of it is intertwined and a to of it is quite complex because there are so many levels whether it be at federal or provincial.”

In the future, the Chamber is going to continue looking to engage on labour, but will also be looking towards education as the key element in filling positions.

“That is the future to solve labour issues.”

Organizations: Prince Albert, First Nations

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Canada, Fort McMurray Saskatoon Regina

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