Skeena NDP MLA Robin Austin says it’s outrageous the provincial government should be encouraging people from the south to move north to find work when it has done little to train people here.
He made the comment after hearing that the provincial government is buying ads in southern BC telling people to move north to work at major development projects either underway or to be announced soon.
In the Northwest alone there’s an array of projects ranging from modernizing Rio Tinto Alcan’s Kitimat aluminum smelter to at least one liquefied natural gas plant and accompanying pipeline near Kitimat to construction of BC Hydro’s Northwest Transmission Line.
“This is ridiculous. For 10 years this government has had a chance to put people through training here, to provide them with upgrading at a period of very low economic activity, and its done nothing,” said Austin.
“And here we are expecting some good news with these projects and the government is advertising for people from elsewhere to come here.”
Austin said there are already examples of people coming from elsewhere to work in the Northwest.
“If you go to Kitimat, where a lot of the work is going on right now, that’s where you’ll see it. There are licence plates from outside the province,” he said.
And while the MLA conceded some of the people from away possess the kind of specialized skills that would not easily be found among the Northwest BC population, he said the chances of residents benefitting from an economic upswing remain tenuous.
Austin added the province is ignoring the potential of residents to respond to the prospect of more jobs here by failing to establish training programs. “And now they have to put out ads to find the people they need,” he said.
Austin added Northwesterners have proven their resourcefulness as it is by leaving the area to find work when opportunities here were very limited.
“It’s the people who live here who should benefit from the development of the resources that are here,” he maintained.
And he said the province has Northwest Community College as an institution ready-made to provide training to people provided it has the budget to do the job.
College officials have just finished a region-wide tour asking people what they want the college to do over the next five years.
“The college should have been engaged years ago by the province to find out what is needed up here,” said Austin.
He said he was also disturbed to hear a Kitimat resident tell him a potential employer doubted the ability of people who are unemployed to be productive workers.
“It’s like that person was saying that if you were out of work for six months, you wouldn’t know how to work,” Austin said.
Meanwhile, a group commissioned by BC Hydro to examine the employment impacts of billions of dollars of development in the region says the region isn’t set up to handle the education and training of workers.
“The current labour supply cannot meet the expected demand for skilled labour and without quick action, companies will be forced to import workers from other regions,” said a summary report prepared by the group in the fall.
The group at first was to look at the impacts of BC Hydro’s Northwest Transmission Line and projects that will result from the line, but has now broadened out its study.
“Training partnerships are not yet established to support the private sector’s employment need by closing the labour force’s skill gaps,” the summary continued.
“The fact that there is not a comprehensive regional human resource strategy currently in place is adding to this risk.”
“Training unemployed and under-employed workers in the region will contribute to reducing labour shortages and turnover, improving productivity and mitigating social pressures,” the report added.
Its final report, with labour development recommendations, is to be finished the end of the year.