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B.C. firms hiring skilled tradespeople from Alberta’s oil patch

The B.C. Construction Association says its member companies have been hiring tradespeople laid off in the Alberta oil patch.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Alberta's pain is British Columbia's gain.

The B.C. Construction Association says that its member companies have been busy hiring skilled tradespeople who had been working in Alberta's slumping energy sector. Association president Manley McLachlan said these include British Columbians who were working in the oil patch and unemployed Albertans heading west to seek jobs.

"There is a tremendous amount of work available in the Lower Mainland," Mr. McLachlan said. "We are seeing activity pick up in the Southern Interior. Vancouver Island right now has a substantial amount of work under way."

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Mr. McLachlan said a survey completed in December suggests about half of the 450 employers who responded hired at least one worker from Alberta's oil and gas industry in the past year.

The association said some of its member companies that employ union and non-union workers will be looking to hire more skilled tradespeople this year for full-time jobs.

Alberta's unemployment rate reached 7.4 per cent in January, up from 4.6 per cent a year earlier.

The Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors estimates that 100,000 direct and indirect oil sector workers have lost their jobs across Canada in this economic downturn, most of them in Alberta. Mr. McLachlan said there is demand for skilled carpenters, electricians, plumbers, welders, heavy equipment operators, roofers and other trades for industrial, commercial and high-rise residential projects.

Tom Sigurdson, executive director of B.C. Building Trades, says the association's employment forecast isn't as sunny as it seems.

He said hundreds of construction tradespeople lined up at job fairs for the Site C Hydro project in Fort St. John, B.C.

Mr. Sigurdson said many building trades organizations in British Columbia are reporting unemployment rates of 10 per cent or more.

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"We are experiencing higher levels of unemployment than we have in the past without having a lot of projects on the books indicating that we are going to have high levels of employment in the spring and summertime," he said.

He said some unionized skilled trades people in British Columbia will be heading to Alberta this spring for maintenance operations on energy projects.

Mr. Sigurdson said there could be more jobs available in B.C. for non-union positions that pay lower wages and benefits.

The construction association pegs the average annual salary of a B.C. construction industry worker at $56,170 per year.

Mr. Sigurdson said a union worker could earn a salary in the $70,000 to $80,000 range.

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