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Irish eyes smile on B.C. construction industry


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December 1, 2013 by PATRICK CALLAN

For the second time this year the British Columbia Construction Association (BCCA) has returned from a successful recruiting mission in Ireland. 

Just shy of 500 jobs were offered following two job fairs—Belfast on Oct. 31 and Dublin on Nov. 2.—which saw a total of 2,800 people turn up looking for work and twenty-seven Western Canadian companies on hand. 

The recent campaign, and the one this past March, are part of a larger effort to help curtail the immediate and long-term labour challenges Western Canada’s construction industry is facing. In B.C. alone, a staggering 20 per cent of students graduating from high school over the next five years would need to enter skilled trades to fill expected job shortages. 

According to the BCCA, the job offers from the latest trip represent $33 million in “opportunity payroll”—a figure derived by multiplying the average wage of a construction worker by the number of total job offers. The BCCA also banked more than 3,500 resumes. 

Manley McLachlan, president of the BCCA, said on this trip they were able to better match candidates with employers because of the strong relationship they have developed with the Irish government. 

“We sent them job descriptions of what we were looking for and they provided a direct connection to their records of unemployed and people who have a desire to move to Canada,” he said. 

Western Canadian employers were looking for all kinds of skills sets, from journey level ironworkers, to plumbers and pipefitters, right up to management positions. “If you’ve got a ticket in heavy duty mechanics you can name your own price,” added McLachlan. 

Ireland is a natural fit to turn to for construction workers for three reasons: culture, training and opportunity. “There’s a cultural connection that’s pretty real,” he said, recalling a conversation he had with the Canadian ambassador who estimated there is between five to six million Irish immigrants living in Canada. 

In terms of training, the BCCA compared nine different trades in western Canada with the Irish trades training system and discovered there weren’t many gaps. “In many ways the Irish curriculum is more intense than ours,” he said. 

However, Ireland’s once booming economy—which saw a period of rapid growth in the late 1990s and early 2000s—has been slow to recover from the financial crisis of 2008. Seeing half built buildings and construction projects remains a common site in Ireland. 

“We all heard about the Celtic tiger and how it literally fell off the cliff,” he said. “There were about 160,000 Irish workers stranded when the economy fell apart.” 

For Irish citizens interested in working in Canada, there are three different routes they can take. Those between the ages of 18-35 can get a one-time Canadian working holiday visa, which allows them to work here for two years. 

The second option is through the temporary foreign worker program, which lets employers hire foreign workers on a temporary basis to fill immediate skills and labour shortages when Canadian citizens and permanent residents are not available. 

There is also the provincial nomination program where candidates are nominated by a Canadian province or territory and then apply to Citizenship and Immigration Canada to become a permanent resident. 

McLachlan said in addition to organizing the initial recruiting trips and connecting Irish workers with Canadian employers, the BCCA plays a central role in helping candidates navigate the immigration process towards becoming a full-fledged Canadian citizen. 

And there is a good chance many will stay permanently. Especially with the amount of work B.C. has on the books: $278 billion in major construction projects, not including the 100,000 jobs that will be created by liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects over the next 30 years. 

“The situation is pretty substantial,” said McLachlan. “The opportunities are huge if you’re an individual with a ticket in…pick a trade.” 

B.C. construction industry by the numbers

  • $83.6 billion—Value of current construction projects in B.C. 
  • $195 billion—Cost of proposed construction projects in B.C. 
  • 7.8%—Construction sector’s contribution to B.C.’s total GDP 
  • 9,500—Increase in B.C. construction jobs from June 2013 to July 2013 
  • $1 trillion—Expected GDP benefits to B.C. by 2046 from five LNG plants 
  • 190,000—Employees in B.C.’s construction industry 
  • 54,500—Jobs opening in B.C.’s skilled trades by 2021 
  • 30,500—Construction jobs will be unfilled because of labour shortages by 2021 
  • 2 of 3—Workers in B.C.’s skilled trades over the age of 45 
  • 83%—Higher yearly wage of a B.C. construction worker compared to sales and service 

( figures provided by the British Columbia Construction Association)


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