Many factors force companies to recruit sheet metal talent overseas

thumb SAIT-Sheet-Metal3Alberta’s labour shortage in sheet metal workers is creating pressure on several industries, as companies have to hire apprentices or journeyman from other countries.

The new top ten barriers to Canadian competitiveness report from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce released last week says, “the nature of Canada’s jobs continues to become more specialized which, in turn, demands more educated and skilled workers.”

In addition, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce report says one way to resolve the shortage is to have access to skilled foreign workers.

The labour shortage was created because of the economic development in oil, gas and construction, explained Sorcha Thomas, Public Affairs Officer for Enterprise and Advanced Education.

The Alberta Enterprise and Advanced Education department statistics from 2011 show certified sheet metal workers vacancy rate is at one per cent, compared to the average of four per cent.

SAIT-Sheet-Metal3Alberta is experiencing a shortage of sheet metal workers, because of a retiring demographic, continued economical growth and an increased demand for sheet metal products.

Photo courtesy of SAIT

“Economic development could change the numbers that have been projected for sheet metal workers. It is possible that industry is experiencing more pressure for labour than what was projected a year ago,” said Thomas.

The 2011 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey:

• 92 per cent of sheet metal employers have recruiting in the past two years.
• 49 per cent of sheet metal employers have experienced hiring difficulties.
• 10 per cent of sheet metal employers have unfilled vacancies for over four month time period.

Reacting to shortages

“Supporting post-secondary education and apprenticeship training is vital to addressing labour shortages,” said Thomas.

The Alberta government provides a base fund, which ensures 19,000 apprentices are guaranteed positions for technical training in post-secondary institutions annually. In the 2012 – 2013 school year, the apprenticeship technical training grant funding has $55-million made available for additional seats and resources for instruction.

“We work with post-secondary institutions to ensure there is enough technical training in the province for the number of apprentices in the system,” said Thomas.

As a result, the provincial government has implemented initiatives to aid with the shortage. An example is the registered apprentice program where high school students are able to work in a trade, while earning credits towards their diploma.

“The apprenticeship and industry training system is industry driven and responds to the needs of employers and workers in the province. This means we work closely with industry to ensure we have programs in place to meet demand,” said Thomas.

The Alberta government’s priority is to ensure Albertans and Canadians are always hired first. Thomas explains that with the large demand for sheet metal workers in the province, some employers have recruited employees from different countries through the federal temporary foreign worker program.

Employers in the sheet metal industry have recruited skilled workers from other countries to fill positions instantaneously. SAIT Polytechnic has tried to reduce the shortage by creating 40 more seats in the sheet metal programs for the 2012 – 2013 school year says Duane Sylvester, academic chair of sheet metal at SAIT.

“There is a rise in the amount of (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) HVAC being done on buildings, as air ventilation and air quality are more of a concern now than 20 years ago. Also more sheet metal work is being installed on buildings today,” said Sylvester.

However, Sylvester suggests the main source of the lack of sheet metal workers in Alberta is due to a retiring demographic.

Another reason for the shortage is that workers are jumping around from company to company, as there is a lot of competition for experienced sheet metal personnel. It’s a wage competition. Even a dollar difference will be enough incentive for a sheet metal worker to choose a different company explained Colin Tull, head of insulation department at Custom Metal Contracting Ltd.

“It’s mostly difficult finding experienced sheet metal workers. The young generation is wiling to learn, but there is not enough of them,” said Tull.

Custom Metal Contracting Ltd. has recruited certified sheet metal workers from areas in Europe.

“Sheet metal workers from other countries are willing to relocate, move and make a better life for themselves,” said Tull.

However, this is costly for businesses as for a certain period the company is held responsible for finding places for workers to stay until the employees get on their feet.

Ken Rudosky, sheet metal HVAC journeyman for Unified Mechanical explains that a lack of skilled works creates job completion difficulties. In addition, a shortage of journeyman means there are not enough people to run jobs to completion, because there must always be a journeyman on site.

“Recruiting sheet metal apprentices and journeyman, from other countries is beneficial, because positions need to be filled. However, it is problematic as there is usually a language barrier. This creates problems in worker relations and generates safety issues,” said Rudosky.

According to Douglas Worobetz, business manager at Sheet Metal Worker’s International Association, the sheet metal trade will have many opportunities and career possibilities in the future.

“There will be times when we will probably have to source temporary foreign workers to fill peak demands from job sites, but we are continuing to try to build our Alberta workforce,” said Worobetz. 

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