Tackling the Labour Crunch

Employment With large-scale projects comes the demand for a matching workforce


Heather Chase, executive director of the workforce expansion initiative, is part of a steering committee charged with finding ways to manage the unprecedented growth anticipated for Saint John.

While the global economy faces a downturn, with jobs hard to come by and finances on the fritz, the opposite can be expected in Saint John, says the executive director of the city's workforce expansion initiative.

"We are very strong and the forecast is only getting stronger," Heather Chase said."And we really want to manage the process and maximize the benefits rather than having an uncontrolled growth."

The Port City finds itself on the cusp of unprecedented growth. With energy projects both planned and underway and a strong economy already in place, workforce stability has been identified as a top priority.

With the Saint John "humming along quite nicely" the city finds itself facing the challenge of meeting the labour demands created through growth.

"When we look at all the potential workforce that is required to build the energy hub and then maintain the projects, it actually lays on a bit of extra stress to an already successful labour market,"

Chase said. Hired in May, Chase heads a workforce action steering committee struck to bring the community, along with private and public sectors, together to provide guidance on the growth ahead.

The result has been a Workforce Expansion Initiative to bring skilled New Brunswickers back home, increase a strong French population through immigration, tap into under utilized workforce pools and decrease poverty. Retraining opportunities for those not currently in the workforce is also a key component of the initiative.

"We're looking at what we can do to help those people to find a way and a stronger, longer-term attachment to the labour market," Chase said. "That includes helping them gain their Grade 12 or GED."

Tom Gribbons, chairman of Vibrant Communities, a group that works to reduce poverty in the Greater Saint John area, said this program takes the right steps toward re-integrating the unemployed.

"What we're trying to do is help people help themselves out of poverty," Gribbons said. "Essential to moving out of poverty is a job and this program aims at that."

In the coming months the city will release a plan that pairs unemployed Saint Johners with skilled workers already in the field to give them the skill set necessary to join the growing workforce. The heads of several companies have already been contacted and are onboard.

Retaining the youth of Saint John factors in as well, along with repatriation.

Pairing with Destination Canada, the Saint John name will be sold in Europe this month when city representatives travel to Paris, Brussels and Toulouse to recruit francophone workers for the energy boom.

"We have heard from our employer community that they can't find all the skills they require in the community already," Chase said."Saint John has a vibrant francophone population but that isn't always first of mind for most people."

This first trip will help identify the market of workers the city can attract, making future recruiting efforts easier.

"When we move forward around the planning of the large energy projects, we will already have that market intelligence so we will be able to be more effective and strategic in recruiting workforce to Saint John,"Chase said.

Retention efforts also include encouraging more women into trades such as welding and targeting groups already in the community such as citizens with disabilities, minorities, aboriginal and senior workers.

"If we can't help people participate in the labour market when the economy is strong and expected to be stronger with the construction phases, I'm not sure when we will be able to do it," Chase said.

"Right now in Saint John we are very forward focused."

Source: Telegraph-Journal