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Booming resource sector spurs wage gains


The average hourly wage in June rose by the largest amount in three years, as labour-starved resource companies boosted salaries in an effort to attract skilled workers.

Some of the biggest wage increases came in Alberta and Saskatchewan, as companies ramped up production in response to booming commodity prices. The average hourly wage in Canada jumped 3.4 per cent in June to $23.50 an hour, according to Statistics Canada data released on Friday.

The jump is somewhat surprising given Canada's relatively high unemployment rate of 7.2 per cent, which should indicate a supply of workers willing to take jobs at less-than-competitive wages. But three years of slowing wage growth between 2009 and 2011 mean wages were due for a bounce back, and stiff competition for qualified workers in some industries pushed that bounce even higher.

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At Edmonton-based Capital Power Corp., it is taking longer to find certified workers to operate the company's energy-generating boilers, said Peter Arnold, the company's vice-president of human resources. It's also getting harder to find engineers to design and maintain the boilers, as well as others to work on construction in the company's wind farms.

With an unemployment rate of 4.6 per cent, Alberta's skilled-labour shortage is compounded by an already small pool of available workers, which highlights the regional disparities in Canada's labour market.

In Alberta, average hourly wages have shot up 5 per cent over the year. Mr. Arnold says he often has to offer up to a 10-per-cent "premium" on the average salary for some technical positions at Capital Power. Otherwise he knows he'd lose potential employees to other large energy companies in Alberta's booming economy.

Traditionally, workers from across the country and especially the Atlantic provinces could be counted on to fill gaps in Alberta's work force, but today, provinces such as Newfoundland and Labrador are facing skilled labour shortages of their own.

A limited pool of skilled workers in Newfoundland and Labrador saw the province's average hourly wage for June surge 8.1 per cent compared with last year.

Vale SA's construction of a new nickel-processing facility in Long Harbour, Nfld., is putting unprecedented demand on the province to fill positions for crane operators and pipe fitters.

"We're doing everything we can to source tradespeople," said Cory McPhee, Vale's vice-president of corporate affairs.

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The company is in the midst of a hiring spree – hoping to add 300 people to its existing staff of 4,200 at the facility, as well as recruit 475 permanent employees to work there once construction is complete next year.

It doesn't matter that 13 per cent of the population is unemployed in Newfoundland and Labrador. Vale can't seem to find qualified people from among that group. The company has advertised nationally for the open positions and Mr. McPhee said he will likely start to look overseas.

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