Apprentices willing to leave home, but can’t find work

Ben Stacey of Grand Bank is a journeyman pipefitter and pipe insulator, who travels back and forth between Newfoundland and Alberta for work.

He's been doing this since 2007, working at places like the Marystown Shipyard and taking jobs out west when there's no local work available.

Following in his father's footsteps, his son has completed nine months of College and is now a first-year apprentice, but Mr. Stacey said his search for work has been discouraging.

Although he's also willing to work outside the province, Mr. Stacey said no one seems to be hiring apprentices in this province or elsewhere because they want experienced workers.

And, on top of this, he contended the hiring of more foreign workers recently in Alberta is reducing the number of jobs for Newfoundlanders, who have traditionally migrated to Western Canada to work.

Apprentices need hours of work and experience to obtain a journeyman's certificate. They also need work to pay off student loans, which Mr. Stacey said can be as high as $12,000 to $13,000 for a nine-month course at a private college.

Mr. Stacey said his son has "bombarded Alberta with resumes, Quebec and everywhere in Newfoundland and, still nothing."

He recently got a job with an aerodynamics company in Grand Bank.

But Mr. Stacey said, there's not much work in his hometown and, previously, he was working at a local fast food takeout.

Mr. Stacey has been collecting e-mails about apprentices with similar stories.

"These kids, after a couple of years of frustration, they go into a rut. I've talked to several of them personally."

He believes both levels of government have "hung these kids out to dry," because they were encouraged to go to school and get a trade and, now, there's no work for them.

He worries jobs in Alberta for Canadian tradespeople, especially apprentices, will continue to decline as the number of foreign workers rise.

Mr. Stacey said he's witnessed this first hand. He said he was laid off recently in Alberta, while about 80 to 90 Filipino workers were still on the job.

He said being an experienced journeyman, he can usually find work on other projects, but young apprentices are not so fortunate.

He insisted this issue has nothing to do with race or racism.

"These people are wonderful to work with. But that's not the issue. The issue is our people are having to stay home."

The Alberta government estimates more than 60,000 temporary foreign workers currently work and live in that province.

Mr. Stacey suspected companies are hiring foreign workers to cut costs. He said he's witnessed some foreign workers in Alberta working 20 days straight, and only taking two days off, then working another 20-day period.

Mr. Stacey indicated Newfoundland tradespeople in Alberta normally work a 20-day stint and are flown home for eight days. He suggested by employing foreign workers who expect less, the companies are saving the cost of airfare and six days' leave for each worker.

Mr. Stacey said he's taken a lot of applications to Alberta to try to help young Newfoundland apprentices get work, and finds it disturbing Canadian tradespeople are "sitting home," while foreigners are being brought into the country.

He recalled at one time this could only happen if it was proven a worker with a particular skill wasn't available in Canada.

This issue is not only being debated among unemployed tradespeople in Newfoundland.

The Alberta Federation of Labour, in a release Sept. 3, called for the 'Temporary Foreign Worker' program to be scrapped. The program, which stems from an agreement between the federal and provincial governments, was designed to help employers fill temporary jobs during Alberta's boom period.

The labour federation in that province, however, claimed the program has become "so dysfunctional that it needs to be scrapped."

Secretary-treasurer Nancy Furlong said tens of thousands of undocumented foreign workers are becoming an "underground workforce," vulnerable to abuse.

Ms. Furlong said "Almost three-quarters of employers of temporary foreign workers inspected by the province in the past year violated employment standards, according to documents released earlier this year by the Alberta NDP.

We also know that many foreign workers have to pay illegal fees of thousands of dollars to recruitment agencies, are forced to work unpaid overtime and live in substandard housing with exorbitant rents, and are misled into thinking they will be able to apply for citizenship in Canada."

She has suggested the Alberta government scrap the program and replace it with immigration through regular channels.

The Alberta government announced in September it was investing $850,000 to immigrant-serving agencies to provide services to temporary foreign workers as they adjust to life and work in Alberta.

At the same time, the province said it would look at the impact of the arrival of thousands of temporary foreign workers on Alberta's workforce, its communities and its people to identify future programming options.

Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said while the focus will "always be jobs for Albertans and Canadians first, it is important that we recognize the contributions of temporary foreign workers to our province - making them feel welcome and included in our communities is simply the right thing to do."

Mr. Lukaszuk said he has asked his parliamentary assistant Teresa Woo-Paw to lead a review of the impact of the program on Alberta and present her findings and recommendations by spring 2011.

Mr. Stacey said he has contacted provincial and federal politicians and plans to present information he's collected from other people in this province to both levels of government.

He's already heard from apprentice steamfitters, pipefitters, pipe insulators, heavy equipment operators, electricians and other tradespeople who find work.

One person, who finished an industrial instrumentation technician program at the College of the North Atlantic in 2009, said he has had no luck yet getting any work in his trade.

A mother told Mr. Stacey her son and two of his friends completed electrical and commercial trades last year and can't find work, despite all three having above 85 averages.

He said one man he's spoken with actually has three trades and still can't find work.

Mr. Stacey explained when student loans are due and there's no work to be found, often the only option is to go back to school and take more courses, with the hope of eventually landing a job. Otherwise these tradespeople have no means to pay off their student debt.

St. John's Telegram, Wed Oct 13 2010
Byline: Deana Stokes Sullivan

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