Friday, November 30, 2012

Canada Actively Seeking American Workers Left Jobless by 'Obama Recovery'

Jeff McIntosh photo- Canadian Press

As the American economy continues to receive bad news amid Barack Obama's reelection and increasing concerns about the upcoming 'fiscal cliff', Canada has made it clear that it needs workers and is looking to the USA to help fill that gap [and I for one welcome our new Canadian overlords- NANESB!]

Much of western Canada is experiencing a shortage of skilled laborers- this is particularly true of the energy sector in oil-rich provinces like Alberta or Saskatchewan. Despite the fact that just under 30,000 Canadians made their way to Alberta from other provinces to find work in the last year, oil industry consultants believe they'll need more than 35,000 additional workers over the next decade for the oil sands alone. Moreover, companies will be losing a large number of worker due to attrition as statistics have shown much of the current workforce in the oil sands, exploration and refineries is middle-aged.
[...] the industry’s growth is far from certain.

“Labour shortage impacts could threaten investment, revenues and sustainability throughout the entire energy value chain,” said Peter Boag, president of the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute, which recently changed its name to Canadian Fuels Association.

The country’s energy sector industry directly employed 187,000 workers last year, and that’s set to grow exponentially.

“There will be no reprieve from current hiring challenges for oil and gas services as the sector will need to fill thousands of positions between now and 2015,” says HR Petroleum Council in a report. “Employee turnover is the sector’s greatest workforce concern as it escalates costs and exacerbates sector-wide labour and skill shortages.”
The oil sands are different in that they have to be extracted in a manner more reminiscent of mining for ore than drilling for oil. Although environmentalists opposed development of Alberta's oil sands, the oil has been naturally seeping into nearby bodies of water such as the Athabasca River for centuries. Although much less straightforward to extract, the mixture of sand, clay, water and bitumen locked in the ground are said to rival the conventional petroleum reserves of Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Much of the oil sands activity is centered northeast of Edmonton around Fort McMurray, Alberta- a latter-day boomtown dubbed by some as 'Fort McMoney'.

As Canada continues to tap the vast energy reserves out west, employers and recruiters are looking beyond their own borders to help offset the shortfall of skilled workers- including the USA.
Since 2010, about 35,000 U.S. workers a year have been issued work permits, according to Canadian immigration statistics. That's up 13% from earlier in the decade. And that figure is expected to grow as provinces continue to loosen requirements for temporary foreign workers.

Rudolf Kischer, a Vancouver-based immigration attorney, said his firm can hardly keep up with the processing of work permits for employers hiring U.S. help.

"We're the busiest we've ever been," he said.

Many of those workers are heading to where the labor market is hottest: Edmonton.

Edmonton has become a staging ground for oil companies that include Canada's Suncor Energy Inc., Shell Canada Ltd. and Chevron Canada Ltd. The energy sector has in turn boosted industries such as manufacturing, home building and retailing.

With a population of about 812,000, Edmonton looks a lot like many American cities. There are large strip malls anchored by U.S. retailers such as Costco and Home Depot, and ubiquitous coffee shops — except here Tim Horton's doughnut shops outnumber Starbucks 3 to 1.

The biggest difference: The unemployment rate here is 4.5%, and "We're Hiring" signs are posted in almost every window.

Jobs near Fort McMurray, a remote town six hours north, are the best-paid; a welder can make up $37 an hour. (At present Canadian and U.S. dollars are almost equivalent in value.) But laborers must stay in barracks-style camps, which energy companies have upgraded to woo them. The best ones offer private rooms with flat-screen TVs, gyms, prime dining and wireless Internet access.

Workers spend as long as a couple of months at a stretch laboring before returning to Edmonton "moneyed up," as the expression goes around here. Workers then pump those dollars into the local economy.

The province of Alberta boasts a median household income of $83,000 compared with $50,000 in the U.S.

Andrew Hoggard, a 35-year-old auto mechanic who moved to Edmonton from Michigan in March, can hardly keep up with his workload. He puts in 12-hour days at a local Chrysler dealership, including some Saturday shifts.

Still, he's not complaining. In eight months, he's made $70,000. Back in Holland, MI, where he worked on commission at Nissan dealership, he relied on his parents to help him pay rent when the work slowed.
In British Columbia, an unprecedented construction boom has left the province short on workers. However, in southern California, even before the current recession there have been thousands of skilled tradesmen who remain unemployed, underemployed or are working outside their field altogether. This led to officials in Riverside County, CA to coordinate with Canadian delegations and organizations like the British Columbia Construction Association to hold a job fair slated for early December in Indio, CA.
“Some have not found work for the past four years in their trade,” said Tom Freeman, commissioner with the Riverside County Economic Development Agency’s office of foreign trade, which has helped set up a Dec. 4 job fair in Indio to recruit workers willing to move north.

Economic development specialists and others in the Coachella Valley have been very involved in what is called the “workforce mobility program,” with initial meetings taking place in Palm Springs and Desert Hot Springs, Freeman said.

The British Columbia Construction Association, which represents some 2,000 companies, will have a delegation at the job fair, as it has at similar job fairs held in Ireland and Scotland, said Abigail Fulton, vice president and an attorney with the association based in Victoria, British Columbia.

“We actually do the immigration work at no charge,” said Fulton, who noted the association is not looking for laborers but rather skilled tradesmen familiar with large commercial and industrial-type projects.

Along with competitive or even higher wages than companies are paying in the U.S., Canadian recruiters are touting steady work, retention bonuses, free universal health care and quality schools.

A flier sent out by Riverside County, the British Columbia Construction Association and the Canada California Business Council lists heavy equipment operators, iron workers, pipe fitters, mechanics, and mechanical and electrical engineers as among trades that are needed.
Of course, Canadian companies and recruiters aren't just limiting their search to the USA. Similar trade shows like the one set to take place in Indio have already been set up in Ireland and Scotland. Canadian officials have also been courting Polish immigrants in the United Kingdom, attempting to coax them into making the move to Canada. While this may sound like an unusual or way-too-specific niche, as of 2001 there are an estimated 980,000 Canadians of Polish ancestry [including Wayne Gretzky, Geddy Lee and William Shatner- NANESB!] and the UK's Office for National Statistics estimated there were an estimated 515,000 Poles either temporarily or permanently residing in the United Kingdom as of 2010.

UK Federation of Poles chairman Włodek Mier-Jedrzejowicz said he had been contacted by Canadian officials who said they were particularly keen on Poles able to fluently speak English.

While there are no doubt some drawbacks for Americans working in Canada [ie- you'd be taxed four times- US federal taxes, Canadian federal taxes, the provincial tax of wherever you live and the state tax of the last state you resided in before leaving- NANESB!] the Canadian dollar and the US dollar are roughly on par, interest rates for savings is slightly higher in Canada and provinces like Saskatchewan and Alberta enjoy more economic freedom than all but a handful of US states according to a Canadian think tank. A recent report from the Fraser institute also stated that Canada is among the top five nations in the world for economic freedom while the USA has plummeted from second place to 18th.

I find it interesting that when I was growing up, I remember that American liberals wanted the nation to follow Canada's lead as far as healthcare, military spending and gun control went. However, now that Canada is drilling for oil, sending troops to Afghanistan and rolling back gun control laws the liberals here in the USA aren't as keen to have the country be more like Canada.

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