It likely comes as no surprise to Fort St. John residents that many of the jobseekers attending the BC Jobs Start Here job fair on Friday, November 9 were not born and raised in the Peace.
Like Anthony Jackson, a recent arrival from Florida looking for a new opportunity to put his accounting and administrative skills to good use, several of the attendees had traveled from across North America and beyond to find work in the area.
“I’m looking for a nice, dynamic corporation I can work with,” Jackson said of his goals for the day.
John Poynton was searching for a new career path after two decades in the aviation business and seven years as a social worker.
“My daughter lives in Fort St. John and I’ve come here to visit her,” said Poyton, who came to Fort St. John from the United Kingdom about five months ago.
“I like the place,” he added. “So, I’d like to stay and seek work.”
Christine Shapovalov from Prince Edward Island told a familiar story of moving to northeast British Columbia because her husband had taken a job in the oil and gas industry.
“I have a [Bachelors degree] in biology and I also have a diploma in biotechnology,” said Shapovalov.
“My goal today is to have an onsite interview or to have an interview scheduled later on,” she continued.
Interestingly, it wasn’t only the jobseekers who were trying to learn more about the local employers during the job fair.
“Because I’m relatively new to Fort St. John, for me it’s really helpful to get to know the major employers in this city and who we might be recommending for our clients and what kind of qualifications they need,” said Ursula Kroetsch, a case manager with Employment Connections.
The sectors represented at the job fair ranged from retail and hospitality to law enforcement, as well as the natural resource industries, particularly the oil and gas services sector and major energy sector players such as Shell Canada and Spectra Energy.
“We have about 23 organizations attending the Fort St. John job fair,” said Hannah Seraphim of the BC Jobs Plan team. “There’s a good variety of different employers for different industries. There’s BC Hydro, Canfor, Staples, Tim Horton’s, as well as Northern Lights College.”
The event was actually part of larger government initiative announced by Premier Christy Clark on September 18. The job fair travelled to 24 communities across the province throughout the fall.
“The BC Jobs Plan initiative is to connect employers with employees,” said Seraphim. “So, that’s what we want to do with our job fairs this fall. And it’s really important to get to all the different communities throughout B.C. … just to show people what industries are out there for them and what types of jobs are available right now.”
“I think it’s awesome,” said Brittney Beck, a personnel recruiter with Precision Well Servicing.
“Lots of people, they always want to go to Alberta,” she continued, “but B.C. [has] got lots of opportunities, too. We have a smaller office here, but it’s great to see lots of guys wanting to come up north and work here.”
Beck was hoping to meet people interested in entry level positions at Precision during the job fair, as well as educate attendees about working in that part of the energy sector.
“We like to promote [from] within,” Beck explained. “We don’t generally hire further up in the chain because we want guys to start fresh, get a good foot in the door, and work there way up through the company.
“Lots of people assume it’s just working on the rigs,” she continued. “They don’t know what else is up there. Our entire company, we’ve got rentals, we’ve got well servicing, snubbing, drilling.
“There’s a plethora of different options out there for everyone, but they’re just not aware of [them].”
Education was also an important aspect of the job fair for Lauren Isherwood-Baingo of McElhanny Land Surveys.
Northern Lights College (NLC) had to cancel its geomatics program at the Fort St. John campus this year due to lack of interest, despite the fact that geomatics professionals are in high demand, particularly for companies like McElhanney that work closely with natural resource industries.
“It’s not just a Northern Lights College problem,” said Isherwood-Baingo. “There are schools across Canada that suffer from low enrollment in geomatics programs. It’s not unusual for them to have to suspend a program or tweak it to hopefully get more interest in it.
“The careers in geomatics opportunities are plentiful and we can’t find enough people,” she added.
Part of the problem is that young people simply aren’t aware of the profession.
“Not a lot of people understand that land surveying is a profession,” said Isherwood-Baingo. “And that it’s a really viable long term career option for someone that likes to work outdoors and likes to do physical work. It pays really well for people who have been in the industry for a few years or more.”
Some sectors may suffer from a labour shortage because interested people are unable to overcome the obstacles they face when trying to move into apprenticeship programs, which was why Robert Johnson was attending the job fair in his role as a trades employment specialist with the British Columbia Construction Association’s (BCCA’s) Skilled Trades Employment Program (STEP).
“What we try to do is remove some of the barriers to get people into the skilled trades, both at the apprenticeship level and moving them into the colleges so they can pursue their trade in the college,” said Johnson.
“We want to meet new people that we may be able to help into a trade, as well as meet the employers who are looking for particular trades people or particular apprentices so we can link the two together,” he added, discussing his goals for the job fair.
Johnson noted that the most significant challenges for young people trying to enter the trades often concern the financial aspects, such as the cost of new steel-toed boots and fire retardant coveralls.
“Occasionally, if somebody’s coming from out of town, we can put them up in a motel for a few nights until they actually start their job,” said Johnson. “Those kind of barriers that would stop them from moving into the trade, we can take care of some of those.”
Finding a journeyman to match with an apprentice is also a challenge, especially in the Fort St. John area.
“The whole northeast of B.C. is short a lot of journeymen, which is problematic because if they don’t have enough journeymen, we can’t put the apprentice in there to train under the journeyman,” said Johnson.
That becomes a significant issue when considering the much discussed skilled labour shortage in western Canada, a problem that is only going to grow as the Baby Boom generation starts retiring.
“We’re trying to raise the awareness that in ten or fifteen years, there’s going to be a serious shortfall on tradespeople, especially journeymen, with a lot of people retiring,” said Johnson. “So, we’re trying to get them aware of it so they start taking steps now to alleviate that problem.
“There’s definitely a labour shortage,” he continued. “Primarily in the skilled trades, but also for a lot of the apprentice positions. And even labourers.”