Innovative use of technology and a partnership with industry eliminated both of those issues. The students in Lab West were connected with those in Stephenville Crossing (where there is a regular heavy equipment program) for classroom work via video conferencing. For hands-on experience, local industry provided the equipment and the worksite, ensuring the most relevant training possible. Students were able to go to class in the morning and to work in the afternoon.
The proof of success? The 100 per cent success rate in the apprenticeship exam. “We were able to minimize the time our students had to stay away from the community,” says Vaughan. Not only that, but they managed to efficiently offer classes between campuses, without unnecessary duplication of infrastructure.
Another example: when word came down that one of the crucial transmission lines from Muskrat Falls would be situated along the Northern Peninsula, the College decided to offer a powerline technician course at that campus. Doing so means there will be skilled individuals ready to step into any jobs that become available.
Vaughan has been working closely with her counterparts across Atlantic Canada to coordinate efforts and share data about industry’s needs and the evolving local capacity. Does she think it will be enough to meet the huge demand?
They’re definitely getting there.
“We are making tremendous inroads, especially in the last year,” Vaughan says. “We are mounting programs that are needed where they are needed … The more we talk with industry the better we will be at meeting their needs. We are producing quality graduates who are ready to put their skills to work.”
IN THE MEANTIME, all is not smooth sailing as companies act to fill the positions they need filled. “My office has become an employment counselling office,” says Labrador MP Yvonne Jones. “The province cut all employment offices in Labrador, now people are turning to us.”
Jones says she and her staff keep a database of workers and resumes. As of July 2013, there were well over a hundred names in the list, most with training and specific skills. “We’re connecting companies with local workers,” she says. “It’s not our job but we’re investing a lot of time and energy in doing this.”
Jones is monitoring Nalcor and the other companies working in Labrador to be sure they are hiring as many local workers as possible. She’s heard of cases where workers have been brought in from elsewhere in Canada, or from another country, to fill positions. Her concerns echo those of union representative Bussey.
On a positive note, Bussey says wages in Newfoundland and Labrador in the industries he represents are generally very competitive. “In the industrial sector, the iron ore workers, we’re as good as most provinces or better. We did lose a few people from the [Come by Chance] refinery for a few dollars more in Alberta, but that’s happening less and less.
“We’re signing contracts and we’re seeing nice improvements in wages and benefits and working conditions.”
As long as the economy is going in the right direction, Bussey says that should continue. “When the economy goes down, we go to the table and there is an expectation to start accepting less. Let’s hope everything stays good.”