Dr. Greg Halseth hasn’t only been looking at how work camps impact their host communities, but on what changes communities will face heading into the future.
And he thinks he has it pretty well nailed down.
The three phases of economic restructuring begins with the construction, a cycle of about three or four years for any specific project.
Naturally that includes the workers on high rotations, and people who move around the world for work.
“Lots of people, lots of rotation.”
From there it goes into the operations phase, which will see a drastic reduction in people.
He said there are cases of up to 3,000 construction workers, dropping to just 40 people in the operations phase for certain projects.
But it’s not a given those people will live in town.
“If the community doesn’t re-tool itself and have the amenities that attracts these workers, they might engage in long-term commuting,” he said.
The topic around that will last about a decade after construction, until the third change, when the latter half of the Baby Boomers will start mass retirement.
“We have to be attentive to what the next generation work force is looking for,” adding that communities in the north typically have it good with those attractions, such as a clean environment, a safe family community and a place they can connect.
“One of the hallmarks seem to be since the next generation work force is smaller numerically than the baby boomers, they’re not worried about work, they know there’s going to be work, so they pick places they want to live,” said Halseth.
So the trick for any community is to leverage construction to change the community to have the amenities they need.
Communities of note, he said, include Chetwynd, who used a work camp to help develop their water and sewer lines towards their airport.
“The challenge is you have to be thinking of that ahead of time, and sometimes for communities these projects can occur too quickly, they weren’t really ready for them…this is the advantage that Kitimat has, that all the preparation that went into the RTA rebuild, and now the experience of it, they’re in a much better place to think about how they might work with any other projects that may come to town.”