In a previous posting on this blog, I made my mining predictions for 2012. One of them was that we would be regaled by a continuing plethora of articles saying mining will be detrimentally affected by a shortage of workers. Here is one comment on that posting (I edit for spelling and punctuation):
The current demand for mining positions including laborers, semi-skilled, and skilled is around 30,000 for Western Canada alone. This does not include the oil sands industry. This number will double by 2015. Combine this with the petrochemical industry we have a predicted shortfall of about 100,000 by 2018. In Fort Smith BC we have zero unemployment with ads for plumbers for $250,000 per year. The restaurants are stealing waitresses from each other at about $18.00 per hour. In Alberta ESSO stations are offering a big screen TV for new employees who will stay longer than 6 months. In Fort McMurray you can work at a automotive shop selling spark plugs for $28.00 per hour. In Edmonton, most restaurants are not open from Monday to Wednesday for lack of employees. Pulp and Paper plus Sawmills are offering millwrights signing bonuses to stay on for two-year contracts for as much as an additional $50K in pay. We currently have an advertisement campaign in Canada and the UK including TV commercials looking for people to move to Canada for these jobs. We did the same campaign after World War two. Currently 11% of our population in Canada is retired. By 2020 that number will increase to 25%.
In spite of the comment and the numbers, I am not convinced. I wish the situation were as clear-cut as the comment implies and that I could tell you that wherever you are, whatever you do, as long as you are prepared to come to Canada and work, there is a job for you.
First let me note that on the basis of a number of cases that I know of, it is near impossible to get into Canada to work. The worst instance is a white man and his white wife of great skills willing and wanting to come to work in the mining industry; they are nearly a year into dealing with government-paper-pushers who continue to delay. Last month the company seeking to employ them retained an immigration lawyer to help. So to the commenter I say: maybe Canada needs workers, but unless you are coming to work in an ethnic family food-stall, forget it. It is a terrible hassle to get in unless you have a job waiting and your new employee is prepared to retain an immigration lawyer.
Maybe those places stealing waitresses at $18 an hour should go ethnic. The family places that I eat at serve healthier, tastier food than those places staffed off the street serving french fries and hamburgers.
Then there is the German that I go to the opera with. He is highly skilled. But after a year is still struggling to get permanent residence. Fact is the system is set up to discourage, not encourage skilled worker to come to or stay in Canada.
I get at least one email a day from people in the USA, South Africa, India, and elsewhere asking how to get a job in the Canadian mining industry. All I can do is direct them to CareerMine and tell them to seek a job and persuade the seeking company to offer them a job and get an immigration lawyer to work. Am I missing something? Is there a central clearing house set up and managed by the mining industry to seek out foreign workers and help them to come and work in Canada? I do not know of one.
I know some of the senior guys in the oil sands industry go to conferences in other countries seeking to lure good delegates to Fort McMurray. They tell me there are more people out there than they can get into the country.
Come on guys, Canada is not seeking mining folk. It is happier with new taxi drivers–every one I talk to came in recently by way of an arranged marriage–or brought their breeding wife in via an arranged marriage. Talking of taxi drivers: have you ever counted the cabs waiting customers at the Fort McMurray airport? At least thirty to forty every time I look. And they tell me they wait up to three hours for a rider. Of course most drivers are Somali refugees and unskilled for selling spark plugs or any other qualifications-requiring job. They are refugees afterall, not skilled workers. I reject these perspectives, however. Everyone I talked to seemed intelligent, able, and willing. But there is a none-too-subtle racialism against them. And there is a tribalism that binds them to each other and the Big Man in charge. That is terrible and we should be acting not pontificating.
Americans are particularly unwelcome from what I can make out. Afterall nearly nine percent of them are out of work. Yet none I know of can get through the regulations to come to work in Canada. Now another commenter on my original posting said that there is no shortage of people, only a shortage of qualified & skilled people.
Maybe that is the issue. Maybe those nine percent unemployed American not seeking to come to work in Canada are neither qualified nor skilled. Damn me, that is why they are unemployed. They are simply no damn good. I say sorry to any I offend in saying this. Be assured I do not believe it. Any rate if the argument were true, nobody would have been let into Canada to begin with.
Looking at the numbers: the comment says that there is currently a 30,000 person shortage of workers in Western Canada alone. If this is correct, how come the Irish civil engineer that I engage in the middle of last year went six month unable to find a job. He is a fine fellow with excellent credentials, but could not get an engineering job. I employed him on the basis of reading his masters thesis. Not one of the companies short of skilled workers had bothered before that to read his thesis.
The point is that if indeed the shortage numbers are true, and I do not believe they are, then the answer is incredibly simple. Consider: European countries that have fought one another for thousands of years now allow free passage of workers across national boundaries. Yet two countries, Canada and the US, which have had but one tiny (gang-related) skirmish in 1812, cannot open their border to the free-flow of workers.
Let us face it, nationalism is at the heart of the issue. Fear of competition is the reason we have a shortage of workers, if indeed there is a shortage. Open the borders to Americans and, if those now out of work are not entirely unskilled and untrained, they will come. Of course this will put out of work all those who make a living from making loud noises about the shortage of workers, so they will probably be the first to block opening the borders to people willing and able to work. Next in line to protest will be those earning $18 an hour or getting $50K sign-on bonuses. I cannot even begin to imagine what the NDP or people from Quebec who speak French will say in protest.
As for the old continuing to work. The only old people that I know who are not working are those with fat pensions from Canada Post or other Federal and Provincial sine-cures. Ah well, they will just have to fork over more of those big pensions to be looked after by fewer care-givers. I cannot believe any of them will wilt and wither away from lack of young workers to supply their demands.
I cannot identify the person whose comment I comment on. The posted name is Rmmonsigneur. It would appear they are from Fort Smith BC and in the mining industry. Must work for a company with ads in the UK and Canada looking for people. And that proves my point: why no ads in the USA? Do we really need more arrogant trade-union specialists from the UK? Or is it a nasty prejudice for those who love a queen and a fear of those who value life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness above good government? I do not believe the qualified American will insist on bringing his gun with him.
And what about all those people from South America who have mining and related skills. I know some who would love to come. But dear, dear, they are Hispanic and not pure white. Best leave them south of the equator and ready to expand mines there for Canadian mining ventures. And best leave those First Nations folk in run-down houses. Can’t expect them to leave their traditional way of life, dependent on government hand-outs, to come take up the 30,000 jobs going begging in Western Canada. At the most they are prepaired to fly-in and fly-out an hour or two to a benevolent mine.
It is almost as bad as here in Orange County, California, where nobody will sell their house to move closer to a job. The house tax situation, namely Proposition 13 that sets house property taxes at the house purchase price, precludes folk from selling and buying new. Why take on addded property taxes when it is cheaper to use gas from Canadian oil sands? Who cares about crowded freeways and emissions?
As for moving, as the old Jewish lady said to me today when I told her of Arizona civil engineering graduates who can’t find jobs in Arizona but who will not move to another state for a job: “They are the privileged class; they will not move for a job; they consider it their right to be able to work where they choose, not where there are jobs. Why, I left Chicago to come to Orange County to find a job. The kids at this school would never do that.”
The point is that the people are out there wishing and willing to come to Canada as we all did as immigrants to work and prosper (or are they?). But Canada is putting the impediments in place for racial, political, historical, and other irrational reasons. Maybe that is why Vale and Rio TInto, and BHP are looking to expand here in Canada. We are just too bogged down by fear, selfishness, and ethnic pride to grab the new world.
On rereading the above, I acknowledge that I have been particularly provocative. I say sorry if I offend. But before you explode, consider what I say in it entirety and in its context. The fact is that the numbers, if true, are not supported by the stories I hear or the people I talk to. There is a vast disconnect somewhere. I may not identify it, but it is there, and we need more honest talk before we get the heart of it.
PS. The day after posting this, I received two emails providing long comment. Here are parts of those comments. They belie what I say above and add a welcome air of new opportunity.
I am an American who decided to move to Canada because of the job opportunity in mining relative to the US. After I moved I found out I was a Canadian citizen thru my mom, because of a law change in 2009. But originally I came to Canada as an American. For me it was really easy. I first had to find a job on my own in Canada. After that it only took a letter of employment from my employer and $150. After 20 minutes at the border I was issued a NAFTA work permit valid for 3 years.
I think some of the reasons that Americans do not seek work in Canada are
- The perception of higher taxes (they are higher)
- Generally Americans are totally unaware there are jobs in Canada or Canada at all
- Most unemployed Americans are unskilled and aren’t going to get a letter of employment to be a waitress or worker in a service industry
I don’t know what percent of the unemployed in the US could qualify as tradesmen and work in the oil sands or mining. Maybe tradesmen are in short supply even now in the US and aren’t unemployed. In Arizona the mines were constantly advertising for skilled tradesmen. Maybe Canada knows the US doesn’t have unemployed tradesmen and this is why they don’t advertise in the US. But I do agree there is a silent polite prejudice against Americans in Canada. I see it in my own family. Canadians are very accommodating of other cultures/countries except Americans and America.
If you are a skilled American and want to work in Canada, it is easy. You have to want to live in Canada and probably most Americans don’t want to live in Canada because of higher taxes and colder weather. If you don’t have a useful education or trade you are SOL. From what I have heard from my skilled South African and European friends is that it is incredibly difficult for them to move to Canada and that is obvious protectionism on Canada’s part.
And from the second comment:
Workforce shortage in Canada. I found it interesting that the government their doesn’t let in skilled workers. I suppose Australia is starting to open up to skilled mining people. My work visa was approved in 3 weeks (supposed to take 8) but I’m geussing they had immigration experts push my papers through kind of like what you called the immigration lawyers. The mining industry is a global industry so I think big companies should be open and willing to move guys all around. Our company brings many from Indonesia on work visas to fill the void in Australia.