• By: Tori McNeely

Hope for Canada’s highly-skilled energy workers

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Alberta, traditionally one of the richest provinces in Canada, now has among the highest unemployment rates and one of the weakest economies in the country. In his victory speech, newly elected Alberta UPC Leader Jason Kenney vowed to get the province back to work and get stalled pipelines built.

Building a sustainable labour force of skilled tradespersons in the pipeline industry takes years and even then, recruiting, training and investing never really stops. But the funds to train this workforce come from the building of pipelines and how major pipeline projects are approved has been in a renewed state of flux due to political inaction from the Trudeau government and regulatory delays.

When it comes to building pipelines, Canadians are at a crossroads. On one hand, there are those concerned about battling climate change and protecting the environment. On the other hand, there are those worried about job security for gas and oil workers. The fallacy that you can’t be both pro-environment and pro-pipeline is one that is jeopardizing thousands of well-paying jobs.

No one knows more about the safe operation of pipelines than the energy workers who build them and the organizations that represent them.

“People are telling stories to the public about how pipelines are built, how they cross waters, how they affect the environment and yet very few people know them as well as we [energy workers] do,” says Neil Lane, Executive Director of the Pipeline Contractors Association of Canada (PLCAC). “Our idea is to educate those people on the construction, technology and responsibility of how we build the pipelines.”

Each year, PLCAC partners including The United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters, The International Union of Operating Engineers, The Labourer’s International Union of North America and Teamsters Canada, invest over $80 million dollars in training programs across Canada. Collectively, these unions represent over 350,000 highly skilled Canadian tradespersons who are responsible for building and maintaining our nation’s major pipelines.

Together they maintain over 93 local training facilities across the country, provide 10 significant specialized training program coast to coast and deliver the mandatory Pipeline Safety Construction Training (PSCT) program established for all trades persons in Canada’s pipeline industry. The course, administered by BuildForce Canada, takes the worker through the entire pipeline construction process and provides them with the tools necessary for assessing hazards, controlling hazards and responding to emergencies.

“Pipeline construction work requires a large number of highly skilled workers, which in turn creates high paying jobs for Canadians,” says Lane. “The PLCAC acts on behalf of this workforce.”

PLCAC’s 41 contractor members provide the most responsible and safe pipeline construction process, and its 94 supplier members deliver the highest technological advanced products to help make pipelines possible.

The Canadian economy is a complex network and damage in one part of the system affects the entire structure. Nearly seventy-five per cent of the energy Canadians need is supplied by oil or gas, and the majority of that energy is delivered by pipelines. Between 2010 and 2014, the Canadian government received over $20 billion CAD in revenue from the oil and gas industry alone. That money helps support public pensions, provide health care, and build schools as well as hospitals, highways and housing in all parts of the country.

Given the record of the industry and its importance to Canada’s energy economy, it’s time the polarization of environment and economy come to an end. The PLCAC and their labour partners have built the majority of NEB-regulated pipelines in Canada and are equipped with a skilled workforce with the know-how to build the next ones.