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Jobs grants training gets qualified thumbs-up

Faced with a long-standing skilled-worker shortage – particularly in Alberta’s oil patch – many employers in Canada are welcoming Ottawa’s plans for a new jobs-grants training program in this week’s budget.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Faced with a long-standing skilled-worker shortage – particularly in Alberta's oil patch – many employers in Canada are welcoming Ottawa's plans for a new jobs-grants training program in this week's budget.

But few expect the program to be a silver bullet for the wide range of shortages of all kinds of skilled workers the country faces, even in areas with high unemployment.

In Thursday's federal budget, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty unveiled a program called the Canada Job Grants, in which Ottawa, provincial governments and employers share the cost, split in thirds, of providing $15,000-per-person for training programs for employees. The details, and issues around provincial co-operation, must still be worked out.

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Jim Evasevich, president and CEO of Calgary-based oil-patch player Yangarra Resources Ltd., said skilled-worker shortages among the contractors his company uses have idled oil and gas wells in the past, and may again when prices rise and production heats up.

"They have taken all the folks that will come from Newfoundland and places like that, so now we need to cast the net wider to get a bigger group of people to source from," Mr. Evasevich said.

Tom Turpin, a senior executive with Randstad Canada, a national staff recruitment agency, said the program would help address training deficits that emerged in the wake of the recession: "Unfortunately when you're in a recession, you're letting people go, and training tends to be one of the first budgets that gets slashed."

The skills shortage goes far beyond the oil patch. Don Henry, the chief operating officer of farm-equipment manufacturer Morris Industries Ltd., based in Saskatoon, said a shortage of machinists in low-unemployment Saskatchewan looms over his ability to scale up operations quickly.

"If we get a young guy in the door who likes the work, likes the company, has got a flair for the machine side, maybe didn't pursue it after high school – we can send this guy to school," he said. "We'll pay part of the bill, the government will pay part of the bill, this guy gets some great training and he's marketable for the rest of his life."

Many praised the idea that employers will have to pony up a third of the cost – a move meant to ensure the program focuses on skills employers need.

But most agree the scale of the problem exceeds one program.

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"There's no single ingredient that's going to determine the success of improving the skilled-labour shortage," said David Ross, the chief financial officer of Grande-Prairie, Alta.-based Bonnett's Energy Corp., which services oil and gas operations in Alberta, B.C. and Saskatchewan.

While the program may be useful for others, he said, for his business the jobs grants would have little effect. His skilled crews learn their specialized trade on the job, he said. And with some predicting a slowdown in the oil and gas business this year, he added, the skilled-worker shortage may sort itself out.

"For us out West here, quite honestly, we work in the oil and gas sector, and we're capitalists, I guess, pure at heart," he said. "If we need people, and there's a cost to it, we don't look to government programs."

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About the Author
Toronto City Hall Reporter

Jeff Gray is The Globe and Mail’s Toronto City Hall reporter. He has worked at The Globe since 1998. From 2010 to 2016, he was the law reporter in Report on Business, covering Bay Street law firms and white-collar crime. He won an honourable mention at the National Magazine Awards for investigative journalism in 2010. More

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