Federal funding end forces energy group merger

Petroleum Human Resources Council acquired by Enform Canada

CALGARY — The end of the $17.5-million federal sector council program has forced the marriage of the oil and gas industry's safety and human resources associations in Calgary.

The Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada, created as a sector council to study industry labour needs in 2001, announced on Monday that it will officially be acquired by safety training group Enform Canada.

The change will result in a staff reduction at the HR Council to eight from 13 as well as a reduced mandate as it focuses on its labour market analysis and careers information functions.

"The prime driver of this is the cancellation of the federal government's sector council program effective March 31," said Cheryl Knight, executive director of the HR Council, who will give up her title as chief executive.

"The acquisition by Enform of us is enabling us to continue to be an industry-directed non-profit association with support from industry but we can continue to access federal and provincial funding through projects."

She said Canada's 35 sector councils were notified in July 2011 their funding, $500,000 each per year, would disappear at the end of the 2012-13 fiscal year.

In the case of the HR council, that added up to 75 per cent of its core budget.

The program's end comes a week after a federal budget which included the new Canada job grant program to fund training for the skills and trades most hurt by a lack of trained workers.

The program gives workers up to $15,000 in job training funds: $5,000 each from the federal government, the provinces and their employers.

The sector councils were also designed to address skills development issues in partnership with industry in key sectors of the economy.

Brenda Kenny, president of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, an HR Council supporter, said she's confident that industry will "step up" to continue work on safety and skills development, aided by federal government programs such as the job grants.

"The key is to back up and recognize there is a combination of research, of training programs, of demographic forecasting, all of which will need to continue in various ways," she said.

But Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said the changes at the HR Council represent a setback for skills needs planning in Alberta because of less worker imput.

"These (sector councils) are the last organizations where working people had a real voice at the table," he said.

"Their function may continue with Enform but the process of tripartite (government, industry, worker) consultation is almost certainly going down the tubes."

Knight said the HR Council will do less in the areas of creating employer tools and working on immigrant employment but will continue to operate an oil and gas careers website with a job board.

Enform is a non-profit organization created by the oil and gas industry to promote safety standards in Canada's upstream industry through training, certifications, services and resources.

"The acquisition gives us access to valuable information and expertise to better align our training and safety services to industry workforce issues," said Enform president and CEO Cameron MacGillivray in a news release.

The two groups are supported by many of the same industry associations, including the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the Petroleum Services Association of Canada, and they share office space at 5055 11th St. N.E.

Enform, with 120 staff, also has training centres near Edmonton and at Fort St. John, B.C., plus an office in Regina.

The HR Council is often cited in the media in stories about skills needs, such as a warning last spring that Canada's oil and gas industry will need to fill a minimum of 9,500 jobs by 2015.

Other sector councils have also turned to the private sector to fill the gap in funding.

Robert Donald, executive director of the Ottawa-based Canadian Council for Aviation & Aerospace, said Monday his group also shares office space to cut costs.

He added the organization's mandate has been expanded to appeal to a greater range of industry sponsors and a magazine it once published has been cancelled.

Another Ottawa-based sector council, the Aboriginal Human Resources Council, says on its website it is trying to increase private sector funding to make up for the $500,000 gap in its annual budget of $3 million to $4 million.

The Edmonton Journal, Monday, Mar. 25, 2013
Byline: Dan Healing, The Calgary Herald

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