Evidence of meeting #39 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was construction.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

3:30 p.m.


The Chair Ed Komarnicki

I call the meeting to order.

We have two panels today. We'll start with a presentation by Christopher Smillie, senior advisor for government relations in the building and construction trades department of the AFL-CIO. We also have representatives from the Canadian Electricity Association: Francis Bradley, and Michelle Branigan.

We will be pleased to hear from you on the topic we're studying. Then there will be some questions and answers from each of the parties.

Christopher, go ahead.

3:30 p.m.

Christopher Smillie Senior Advisor, Government Relations, Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, Canadian Office

Good afternoon, Chair, members of the committee, and fellow hostages of the committee. It's been since October 27 last year that I had the honour to appear.

Of importance in my personal life, I'm a father now and I grew a grey whisker.

3:30 p.m.


Oh, oh!

3:30 p.m.

Senior Advisor, Government Relations, Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, Canadian Office

Christopher Smillie

In my professional life I'm here to talk about skill shortages. Skill shortages and foreign credential recognition are interrelated, so my remarks will start where I left off in October. Some of you will recognize some of the material, but that's not a bad thing.

We're the Canadian building trades and we represent 14 international construction unions that represent more than half a million skilled trades workers in Canada, and more than three million in the U.S. We work with major and small construction contractors in Canada that do business with the same energy companies in Alberta, Newfoundland, B.C.,Saskatchewan, and everywhere in between.

Canada, in our view, is entering a critical phase in our labour market, mainly due to retirements, an under-performing training system, and a projected unprecedented economic demand. There's more energy investment slated in Canada's economy than ever before, and more than the current labour force will be able to handle.

The major project management office website lists dozens and dozens of major resource projects on the horizon worth almost half a trillion dollars. My calculator wouldn't handle the zeros. Every billion dollars spent in the energy industry means about 2,000 direct and immediate jobs in construction, and 2,000 in other industries for three years. This is great news for the workforce, if as a country we plan and execute a plan properly.

It has been forecast by the Construction Sector Council, in their “Construction Looking Forward” report that was just printed about 15 days ago, that by 2018 we'll need about 200,000 new skilled trades workers. I'm going to give you a quick breakdown, as you can all read the report I'll table afterwards.

Their supply-side estimates break the annual change in the labour force into four components: retirement, mortality, new entrants, and mobility. From 2010 to 2018, construction employment is forecast to rise by 180,000 jobs. Added to these demands are replacements for retirements of 189,000, and the loss of 26,000 workers due to mortality. There are 169,000 new entrants from the Canadian population to meet these needs, leaving a recruiting effort to find 200,000 new construction workers from other industries and outside Canada. If this isn't a call to action for the committee I'm not sure what is.

Today I'll run you through five practical policy fixes we think would work for Canada. Hopefully the committee will take them into consideration.

First is support for industry groups and companies that train young Canadians in construction. Second is labour market development agreements and getting policy value for money through these development agreements. Third, incent people and employers who hire them into Red Seal apprenticeships to move through and graduate in a reasonable amount of time. Fourth, the industry needs help with workforce mobility. Fifth is access to good, reliable, real-time, industry-sourced labour market information, like the Construction Sector Council stuff, and a temporary foreign-worker program that makes sense and is practical.

I'll give you a quick background to bring you up to speed, for those who didn't hear my pitch in October. The key players that regulate the skilled trades in Canada are the Canadian Council of Directors of Apprenticeship; the Red Seal Secretariat, which is in HRSDC; and the provincial apprenticeship and licensing bodies. The key funder of provincial labour policy is the federal government.

So let's get into my first topic: support for industry groups and companies that train young Canadians. The business case for hiring an apprentice has been laid out quite clearly. I refer the committee to a study by the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum released in 2006. It concludes that every dollar spent on training returns $1.38 to employers. So hiring and training apprentices makes money for employers. We often have difficulty placing young people, and young people face many barriers to getting hired by contractors in construction.

Community colleges are another deliverer of curriculum. Some of the training they deliver includes pre-apprenticeships to actual Red Seal trades. Both training sources deserve public and private support to address the skills shortage issue. Did you know that the building trades in Canada receive no public money, and we train 80% of Canada's construction apprentices?

The federal government can help by having a procurement policy that includes clauses and commercial terms for construction companies requiring a training plan and apprenticeship hiring. Shell Canada has been very successful in its approach to this situation. Perhaps the committee would consider talking to our industrial partners in this regard. It might be a neat idea to tie Minister Oliver's regulatory reform package to training a workforce for the future, so that on large energy projects Canadians are assured we're training a construction workforce for the future.

I'm not preaching socialism or tied aid like last time, just practical solutions so Canada can reap the benefits of these large-scale industrial projects. Maybe this kind of policy could help the minister's battle with the radical environmentalists as well.

My second topic is value for money and labour market development agreements, LMDAs. LMDAs are a huge opportunity for the federal government to show leadership in the skill shortage situation. These deals give the provinces money, in what is basically a fully devolved process between the federal and provincial governments. The labour market development agreements make the federal government the writer of cheques. Why not use them to shape skill shortage and training policy?

Again, I'm not talking socialism or tied aid from the federal government, but how about getting value for money in these multi-hundred-million dollar deals that the federal government signs with the provinces every five years? Let's make sure we're getting value for money and ensure that the provincial regulators are planning for their labour markets in the future. Instead of giving provincial governments carte blanche to do yet another study or another website that tells us what we already know, let's set a path and show leadership on LMDAs. It might be a good start to addressing skill shortages.

There are currently no policy objectives tied to labour market development agreements. If the federal government were serious about skill shortages, it would include these measures—and not more websites or gimmicks for a quick-fix, but hard dollars for provinces and groups that train people in identified occupations needed by industry.

Third is the need to provide incentives for people and the employers who hire them. In construction we have a problem, and by extension, in the greater economy there is an issue. We have a problem with lots of registrations in red seal trades by people who, quick as a flash, never graduate. There's a small incentive to move through years one and two with the apprenticeship incentive grant, AIG—and for that, our organizations are thankful, but there is nothing for years three or four. There is a graduation grant. In total, it's a few thousand dollars over the course of a training cycle. An average construction apprentice is making $50,000 to $60,000 a year. This person can make a few thousand dollars in overtime every week. The incentive grant pales in comparison to what's out there in terms of work. These folks can work forever as a second or third year apprentice and never move through the system and graduate. In construction you're limited to a ratio of apprentices to journeypersons on a work site. If you never increase your number of journeypersons, you can never grow the number of apprentices.

We need real incentives, maybe by using a time limited system in the red seal program for someone to obtain their red seal. The federal government has a vested interest in the provinces graduating more journeypersons. Maybe this is another thing that could be linked to the labour market development agreements, for example, that you must graduatexnumber of journeypersons per year to remain eligible for LMDA funding. Maybe hard dollars could be provided to companies that graduate apprentices and have a track record of doing so, or maybe increased tax credits could be provided to employers who graduate journeypersons, whatever the committee thinks.

Fourth is the issue of the mobility of the construction workforce. Canada still doesn't have a system to facilitate the mobility of the construction workforce. The Standing Committee on Finance—which is really tired of hearing from me on this—has probably heard it said 30 times that our industry is dying for a way to get people to where the work is, or at least that the industry is very eager to have a system to assist with the costs. Did you know that Suncor and CNRL are catching up to WestJet as Canada's second largest airline? They have fly-in and fly-out programs for our members and others, the folks who go to the oil sands, depending on who needs people the most and who's offering a fly-in and fly-out that month.

Still, there is nothing for regular commercial construction, institutional construction, and the folks who will soon be travelling from southern Ontario to the Ring of Fire, if we ever get there. The confluence of energy projects coming down the pike, so to speak, will mean that people will be travelling farther and farther for construction work. I'm not talking about moving to where the work is, like the rest of us do. In construction, folks go to work for three weeks, three months, or three years, and they're always working themselves out of a job.

Canada needs to incent people to get on the plane and in the pickup truck. Canada needs to help defray the costs of travel to work sites. We propose a sensible tax credit. You spend $3,000 to get to work and you get a 15% tax credit, or something similar.

The revenue back to the GoC in the form of productivity and income tax paid would be tremendous. Ask any construction company or any large energy company if they would be in favour of defraying the cost of travel for securing a workforce. The answer would be yes. The draw on employment insurance would go down, as people would be working, and employers could reduce the costs of bringing in a workforce from abroad.

Our proposals and those of our partners in the oil patch, my friends at CAPP, have been shuffled to the bottom of the priority list by subsequent Ministers of Finance. Hopefully—and I'm hopeful—the current one can be encourage to assist.

Canada can help the skills shortage problem by properly incenting individuals to go to work. My penultimate solution is labour market information. In order to address the skills shortage problem in Canada, we need to make sure our labour market information is top-notch.

Recently, the Construction Sector Council lost certainty around core funding for labour market information. Does this make sense at a time when industry needs to know more about who, what, where, when, and why in real time? Why are we cutting industry-driven labour market information potential? Government and industry have spent millions setting up the LMI system at our sector councils.

I wrote this: “What is the deal with the cuts?” I wasn't supposed to say that.

This is not a case of good money going after bad money in the sector councils. Talk to the energy players. Talk to PCL. Talk to EllisDon. They all use this information, and it's a big deal to us.

Lastly, I know that discussion of the TFW program has been popular on this committee. Our organizations have been working for a while to give the temporary foreign worker program—which gives us skilled trades from the United States—front of the line status. The committee can refer to my testimony in October of last year. I talked about this at length. What a no-brainer. The Government of Alberta, the Department of State in the United States, and the White House are ready, and we still await news and action from the federal government on this one.

We have—

3:40 p.m.


The Chair Ed Komarnicki

If I may, I'll get you to bring it to a rapid conclusion pretty quickly, if you could, as we're running a bit late.

3:40 p.m.

Senior Advisor, Government Relations, Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, Canadian Office

Christopher Smillie

Yes, sir. I have 30 seconds left.

It's a no-brainer to look at a system to give front of the line access to U.S. workers.

Before I conclude, I'll note that I had a large number of my members on the Hill yesterday talking about Bill C-377. Maybe they met with you.

The bill is something that's distracting, annoying, and plainly punitive to the building trades. The money we will spend complying with this legislation will take away from our training ability and our ability to promote careers amongst young people. It means a compliance officer instead of a training officer at every local union hall—plain and simple.

The members of this committee can vote no or ask cabinet to kill the bill and continue to be partners with us. I can assure you that we'll be training fewer people in your communities to go to work for Canada if we have to comply with the legislation.

Thanks very much. I look forward to your questions and comments.

3:45 p.m.


The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Thank you, Mr. Smillie.

I allowed you to go forward with that last comment. It's not directly related to our study, but I thought you might want to put that on the record, so I didn't interrupt.

Mr. Bradley, go ahead.

3:45 p.m.

Francis Bradley Vice-President, Policy Development, Canadian Electricity Association

Thank you very much.

I'm Francis Bradley, a vice-president at the Canadian Electricity Association.

The Canadian Electricity Association is the national voice in matters of electricity in Canada. Across the country, our members provide day-to-day electricity production, transportation and distribution services to industrial, commercial, residential and institutional clients. All industry stakeholders are represented within our association: vertically integrated public utility companies, energy dealers, manufacturers and suppliers of equipment, technology and services. They see to a reliable electricity system.

The renewal of Canada's electricity infrastructure is the number one priority of the electricity sector and of our association.

Most of Canada’s electrical power grid was built over 25 years ago to serve a population of 20 million inhabitants. And yet today, that population consists of over 34 million people whose lifestyles are increasingly dependent on electric devices.

A recent Conference Board of Canada report projects that an investment of $347.5 billion from 2011 to 2030 is required to meet electricity demand and to power Canada's future. The labour requirements to accommodate this investment in electricity infrastructure will exert additional pressure on an already tight labour market. The electricity industry will not be able to rely on recruitment from other sectors, as these will be facing similar labour challenges. Competing industries such as the oil sands can bid up compensation, whereas utility compensation is capped by regulation.

In response to the HR challenges faced by our members, and in collaboration with HRSDC, the Canadian Electricity Association undertook a labour market study in 2004, which led to the launch of the Electricity Sector Council in 2005 under HRSDC's sector council. My colleague, Michelle Branigan, will talk a little bit about what the recent LMI studies have found.

3:45 p.m.

Michelle Branigan Member, Canadian Electricity Association

Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman, honourable members, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for the opportunity to speak here today.

I'm the executive director of the Electricity Sector Council, whose mission is to strengthen the ability of the Canadian electricity industry to meet current and future workforce needs for a highly skilled, safety-focused, diverse, and productive workforce. The ESC is one of the few industry organizations without an advocacy mandate, and our efforts to be inclusive and objective in serving the broader needs of the sector is considered to be one of our key strengths. We provide human resource and workplace development support to workers employed by the electricity and renewable energy industries, and related co-generation, energy efficiency, and manufacturing and service consulting industries.

The Electricity Sector Council has taken a leadership role in the development of strong, credible labour market research. An extremely high participation rate in our LMI data research lends weight and credibility to the data produced. Currently, the electricity sector employs over 108,000 people, the majority of them highly skilled workers. Our most recent labour market information research published this January reports that employers in the electricity sector will have to recruit over 45,000 new workers—almost 48% of the current workforce—by 2016. The report shows that baby boomers comprise 36% of the existing electricity sector workforce. By 2016, all but the youngest boomers will have reached age 58 and likely have the 30 years of experience needed to qualify for a full pension.

We do have a notably lower average age of retirement. It's 58 versus 61 for the overall economy, and 66% of staff do retire once they are eligible. In fact, 25.4% of current power system operators are expected to retire in 2016, and almost 20% of supervisors of electricians and electrical power line workers are expected to retire at the same time.

In addition to the need for replacement workers for pending retirements, new human capital is required to support the transformation of the system as new technologies are integrated into the grid. Advances in technology are also changing the skill profiles of employees.

The available workforce will not meet these labour requirements, and employers need to look for and attract new recruits. There needs to be an increasing focus on targeting under-represented groups such as immigrants, women, and aboriginal people. Francis referred to the massive infrastructure requirements of the industry. We cannot replace the main infrastructure for the system without making an equal investment in human resources. Human resource investment should be seen as equivalent to capital investment and not as a cost.

Thank you.

3:50 p.m.

Vice-President, Policy Development, Canadian Electricity Association

Francis Bradley

As you can see, many issues relate principally to new demographics, the emergence of a new generation and the transformation of Canada’s grid.

We understand that you cannot resolve all these issues with a wave of a magic wand.

But there is one issue I'd like to bring to your attention that could be considered low-hanging fruit, so to speak, and one that, with your help, could be addressed with relative ease.

As you're likely aware, the National Occupational Classification, or the NOC, is the primary and nationally accepted federal government resource for information on Canada's labour market. A joint initiative between the HRSDC and Statistics Canada, it organizes over 40,000 job titles into 500 occupational groups and descriptions.

Based on the current classification, electricity sector occupational titles can be found in several groups and subgroups of the occupational structure.

A relatively simple administrative adjustment, consisting of bringing together the electricity sector professions under the NOC’s “electricity sector” grouping, would be very useful for our members and, above all, for qualified persons seeking employment in our sector.

Mr. Chair, in conclusion, thank you for the invitation to appear today and for the opportunity to speak to the challenges faced by Canada's electricity sector in regard to skilled worker shortages. We look forward to your questions.

3:50 p.m.


The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Thank you.

Thank you for that presentation. We will certainly make note of that concern of yours.

We'll start the first round of questioning with Mr. Cleary.

May 16th, 2012 / 3:50 p.m.


Ryan Cleary St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to the witnesses.

Mr. Smillie, I want to take you up on a couple points that you made. You talked about the mobility of the construction workforce, more specifically how to get people where the work is. That's a very good question. I'm having that problem in my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador, in terms of how to get people to jobs in remote areas.

I have a specific question about a private member's bill, Bill C-201, which is before the House of Commons. Are you familiar with it?

3:50 p.m.

Senior Advisor, Government Relations, Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, Canadian Office

Christopher Smillie

I have to say that if you could give me a brief description, I might become familiar with it.

3:50 p.m.


Ryan Cleary St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

I'm the same way when you give me a number.

3:50 p.m.

Senior Advisor, Government Relations, Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, Canadian Office

Christopher Smillie

Except the one I'm angry about—I know that one.