Belfast Telegraph

Canada offers new career option for skilled workers

By Clare Weir

They came from all over Northern Ireland, some in suits, some in tracksuits, some newly qualified, some with 20 years of experience, to find out about working on the other side of the world.

The British Columbia Construction Association, on the hunt for skilled workers, held an information event at the Hilton in Belfast which was inundated, and had to begin an hour early.

The men were told that if every child in school in Canada today became a tradesperson, that firms would still require 20,000 extra workers in the construction trade.

In the overall economy, around 1m job openings will open up between now and 2020, due to a declining birth rate and high retirement levels.

British Columbia currently has hundreds of billions of dollars of projects in the pipeline between now and 2015, and with demand greater than supply, key workers in the energy, oil, gas, mining and transportation sectors are needed - 500 of them, immediately.

Tourism, aerospace, manufacturing, high tech, agriculture, aquaculture and forestry are other big economic drivers.

Particularly lucrative careers are heavy duty machinery operators and mechanics, millwrights, welders and metal fabricators, steel plate workers, plumbers, gas and pipe fitters, estimators, civil engineers, crane drivers and commercial roofers.

There are not so many opportunities for brick workers, plasterers and electricians.

Abigail Fulton, vice-president of the association, said that Irish and British workers are highly prized by big companies.

She said that she was unprepared for the interest shown in the Belfast event.

"We were surprised at the turnout and we are having at least 100 people in each half-hour session," she said.

"We held events in Dublin and Cork in recent works and we have already placed around 100 workers in just a few weeks. We hope to place a few thousands over the next year."

After outlining the immigration policy , living standards and wages in Canada, Michael Chu from the Ministry of Jobs in BC pointed out that Ireland and the UK are among the top five countries providing employees to the country.

Under 35-year-olds with Irish passports and under 30s with a UK passport do not require a job offer in order to secure a visa.

"Canadian employers are aware that British and Irish workers have some of the best training and skills standards in the world," he said.

"They have a good work ethic, their reputation precedes them. Employees look at their CVs - being Irish or British gives you an advantage."

Philip Kenny (44) was one of the attendees. He hopes to return to Canada after coming to Northern Ireland as a child.

"My parents were from here, went to Canada to live and then came back here," he said.

"I just want to get back out there. I am a carpenter, I have been unemployed for over a year, there is a good wage and a good standard of living and good opportunities. We have what they want."

Declan (31) and Paul (32) McGovern travelled to the event from Ardee in Co Louth. Declan has been unemployed for four months and Paul, a civil engineer out of work for over two and a half years, said the outlook at home is bleak.

"There is no steady work," he said.

"There have been so many job losses, people are prepared to travel far for work and a better life."

Belfast man James Dines (25) said that there was little employment in the city despite a raft of new capital projects.

"I'm here with my mates, we are all young, well qualified and experienced and we want to work, but we are all unemployed," he said.

"The companies that seem to win all the big contracts bring their workers with them and there is no work in the city."


British Columbia covers an area of 750,000sqkm - ten times the size of the island of Ireland

Population is 4.45m - the same as on the island of Ireland

Minimum wage equivalent: £6.45

Average wage paid per hour equivalent: Plumber - £15

Welder - £63

Available work visa places per year (adjusted annually)

Irish workers - 5400

UK workers - 7000