On behalf of the 55,000 highly skilled members who make up the International Union of Operating Engineers in Canada, I'm honoured to appear before the committee today to talk about this important issue.
By way of background, I would note that we are one of 14 affiliates of the Canadian building trades, representing 600,000 men and women who work in the construction sector. Our members build and maintain Canada’s infrastructure. They help construct our nation’s hospitals, hydro dams, mines, nuclear plants, roads, schools, solar farms, wind turbines and pipelines, to name a few. In short, we build it all.
Discussions regarding a just transition will immediately impact our men and women, and are impacting our men and women today. For a just transition to succeed and ensure that no one is left behind, many things need to fall in place. Three of those elements that we'd like to bring before the committee today are, first, the need for a clear and obtainable blueprint; second, that labour must be an equal partner; and third, that training must be undertaken correctly.
In our industry, successful construction projects follow a blueprint or a plan, which lays out what must be done, when it must be done and by whom. The plan ensures that the owner client, contractors, subcontractors, suppliers and labour all understand the timing and the steps necessary to build a successful project. In our opinion, governments must lead and clearly articulate what society must do to ensure a smooth transition.
Right now, in our observation, there seems to be no blueprint and no real clear objectives, but just a lot of talk. This uncertainty creates distrust and uneasiness among those who will eventually be impacted: the workers.
Clearly, there is much at stake. Past experiences have shown that when governments fail to act or when measures are unevenly implemented, workers clearly suffer from the upheaval caused by the transition. If the government wants to grow the middle class and at the same time ask Canadians to support a transition to a low-carbon economy, workers have to have certainty and a clear view of where their future, and comparable job opportunities, will be for them and their families. They will need opportunities that will provide the necessary supports and reskilling initiatives that will allow them to succeed in their new jobs. Any just transition plan must be worker-centric to succeed. To understand what these opportunities are and what challenges lie ahead, actual worker voices must be heard. This transition will only succeed if we have buy-in from the workers. Organized labour must be an equal partner and therefore be consulted at all levels.
The government has said that a just transition will be led by labour, but the government must show and commit publicly by partnering with labour on many of the upcoming initiatives. Training is one of those examples.
Training will be a crucial element in moving forward on a just economy. It will only succeed if labour is engaged on how the funding and actual training of displaced and soon-to-be displaced workers are received. Retraining workers, especially those in the oil and gas sector, is vital to ensuring their success in other sectors of the economy.
Outside of the university and college system, the unionized building trades, through our various training centres across Canada, are the largest private trainers in Canada. We would suggest you let the union training centres be the lead on any future training to ensure that training is undertaken correctly and that best practices are applied.
Our jointly trusteed, people-focused, not-for-profit training centres ensure that all workers—union and non-union—are trained to the highest industry standards, which includes employment placement. Our programs are accredited in every province with the exception of Quebec, which has its own provincial program. Training is provided by qualified, experienced instructors. Reskilling the existing workforce and training the next generation will take time and careful planning. Governments cannot expect workers to achieve the training necessary for new job opportunities from programs that offer quick fixes or fast-track training. Any meaningful employment opportunity will require training of sufficient duration and quality to ensure workers' success, which our centres provide.
At the same time, Canada is experiencing a skills shortage. Our workforce is aging, including me. There are many challenges in recruiting and retaining young workers. For a transition to happen smoothly, Canada must continue to encourage recruitment and retention in the oil and gas sector.
As workers are reskilled to succeed in the low-carbon economy and to ensure that momentum doesn't stall, we need a steady inflow of apprentices into the trades. We need to take all steps necessary to attract, train and retain Canadian tradespeople, including by recruiting more women and indigenous Canadians in the trades for a made-in-Canada solution.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.