Souris Moose Mountain MP Ed Komarnicki got the chance to show off his hometown and, potentially, help with the local labour shortage Thursday.
Komarnicki and fellow members of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilties, which goes by the acronym HUMA, were in Estevan as part of their study on the skills gap in high demand occupations and the skilled trades and the lower skilled shortages in the service industry.
The bipartisan committee, which is chaired by Komarnicki, first made a tour through eastern Canada and followed that up with a western swing which included stops in Vancouver, Whitehorse and Fort McMurray before concluding with the Estevan visit.
The veteran MP said he was proud to tour the committee members through Estevan but added the visit was fitting as the city is going through the same type of labour shortage that many other communities in Canada are dealing with.
“It’s not the largest of all the centres, but I thought it was very representative of Saskatchewan,” Komarnicki said in an interview Friday. “It’s almost like a mini Fort McMurray in the sense that there is a lot of activity going on from a number of perspectives. The business people are experiencing labour shortages in the service industry.”
The committee’s Estevan visit kicked off with a tour of the Boundary Dam Power Station’s carbon capture and sequestration project and a presentation from SaskPower president Robert Watson.
A round table meeting at the Days Inn, where a handful of local business owners had the opportunity to make presentations to the committee, followed the tour. Among the local businesses and groups presenting were Dairy Queen, Sherritt Coal, Enbridge, the Estevan Chamber of Commerce, the Saskatchewan Energy Training Institute and Kramer Tractor.
“It was quite an interesting day for sure, an eye opener for many of the (committee members) to come to a comparatively more remote area of the country but certainly a hot spot.”
Komarnicki noted the presenters all had a similar message as they touched on the employment shortage in Estevan, especially in the service industry.
“It seems like it’s difficult to get local students or kids to fill the positions or to get people from within the community. They have a hard time with that,” he said. “Many would hire (people) on the spot if they had just some basic qualifications, but they find, to provide a level of service, they have to go beyond. They want the temporary foreign worker program continued and streamlined if they could. They are thankful for that program and would like to have it work even better.”
With respect to the skilled trades, Komarnicki said a culture change might be needed among families in Canada. He noted in the past, the emphasis among parents was to push their children towards a college education and the trades were sometimes given short shrift.
“There are some pretty good wages being paid to the skilled trades. They realize they can’t meet the demand from here but there was a consensus that we should start earlier by having parents take another look at that by showing the kids some of the potential in the trades.”
Another group also stressed the need for organizations such as community colleges to work with businesses to develop courses that might benefit them and produce future employees. Komarnicki said Estevan is uniquely positioned to move on that suggestion with the recent opening of the Saskatchewan Energy Training Institute, which already has a good working relationship with many local companies.
“We are going to have to start looking out of the box and we have to look at it as a partnership amongst many different levels and areas to produce the people we need to expand. The simple fact is businesses cannot expand without people, so you have to do what you can to ensure they have that.”
Aside from education, Komarnicki said Estevan will need to get a handle on the housing shortage if it hopes to supply enough employees to meet the local demand.
Komarnicki added the committee was very impressed with the reception they received in Estevan from the staff at their host hotel to the group that provided the tour at Boundary Dam.
The committee is expected to file its report in the fall.