Calgary calling as Canada seeks to fill skills shortages in its key industries

Employers hoping to recruit workers at the Canada Expo in the RDS in Dublin this weekend

With a projected shortage of 96,000 workers threatening to hinder the rapid expansion of Alberta’s lucrative oil and gas industry over the next decade, the central Canadian province is crying out for skilled labour.

With the arrival in Dublin this week of a 20-strong delegation from its capital city Calgary, Alberta is the latest region to target Ireland's underemployed workforce to fulfil its labour needs.

The Occupational Demand and Supply Outlook for Alberta analysed the top 500 jobs that will be needed in the province by 2023, and then looked to find where the relevant talent pools were globally.

Ireland and the UK were identified as the two primary locations where a surplus of workers were readily available with the relevant skills they needed, particularly in engineering, trades, heavy equipment operations and hospitality.


"Considering how high the unemployment rate is in Ireland at the moment, now is an opportune time to demonstrate we have open opportunities in a sustainable market in Calgary," Jeanette Sutherland of Calgary Economic Development explains.

Alberta was responsible for 87 per cent of all new jobs across Canada last year, with 18,000 positions created in the region this February alone.

Major liquefied natural gas, hydro-electric and oil pipeline projects are scheduled to ramp up over the coming years, exacerbating already existing labour shortages.

“Our unemployment rate is just 4.7 per cent, so demand for workers far exceeds the numbers we have. The economy is booming, with billions of dollars of projects on the table. If we can’t find the talent we need within Canada, we have to look internationally or these projects will stall.”

The high number of experienced but unemployed tradespeople in Ireland is a draw for organisations such as Calgary Economic Development, but the Irish apprenticeship system, which produces highly trained workers with similar qualifications to Canadian tradesmen, is one of the main reasons why they concentrate their recruitment efforts here.

In response to growing demand from Canadian government delegations and employers, as well as potential emigrants in Ireland, this weekend’s Working Abroad Expo will be dedicated to Canada only for the first time since its establishment 10 years ago.

The popularity of Canada as a destination for Irish emigrant workers has increased hugely in recent years, with 5,300 moving there in the 12 months to April 2013, up from just 3,000 the previous year and just 1,100 in 2008/09, according to Central Statistics Office data.

Demand for working holiday visas under the International Experience Canada Programme is now so high that the first allocation of 3,850 for Irish people this year were snapped up online within just seven minutes of the application system opening last week.

A second round of 3,850 IEC permits, which allow people aged 18-35 and their children to live in the country for up to two years, will be made available later this month, but are expected to go just as quickly.

Young professionals
"Canada is growing a brand to compete with the Australian market for working holidaymakers from Ireland and other countries, which their economy is becoming increasingly reliant on," explains Stephen McLarnon of, who is organising this weekend's Canada Expo.

Despite the harsh winters, with temperatures sometimes dipping below -30 degrees in parts of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, McLarnon says the Irish settle well in the central Canadian provinces.

“They speak English, their skills are comparable, there’s a strong Irish community, and certain parts where workers are needed are very rural, so people moving from rural areas in Ireland like them,” he says. “Once they get through the first winter, they will be fine.

“Their IEC programme offers considerable benefits over the Australian equivalent, which doesn’t allow them to bring children, work for an employer for more than six months, or go after the age of 30.”

This year’s IEC programme has a new stream for young professionals and interns, with 3,000 visas ringfenced for people who already have a job offer secured from an employer.

Among the 35 employers hoping to recruit at the Canada Expo in the RDS in Dublin this weekend will be oil and gas giant Cenovus, Tarpon Energy, McElhanney, Pronghorn Controls and Crude Energy, as well as a representative from the Government of Alberta. Calgary Economic Development will represent a number of other Calgary companies.

Around 1,000 positions will be on offer in total. Electrical and instrumentation company Tarpon is looking to recruit 25 industrial electricians to start work in the autumn. A spokeswoman for the company said it would also be interested in speaking with instrumentation mechanics and technicians, quantity surveyors and structural welders and fitters.

Construction workers
After previous successful recruitment efforts here, Tarpon now employs 80 Irish workers, many of whom have emigrated with partners and children. Like several other companies of its size in Canada, it provides a generous relocation package for foreign workers and their families, including flights, accommodation on arrival, and the support of an immigration advisor to assist with visas and work permit applications

While the majority of employers recruiting at the expo this weekend are involved in construction or the oil and gas industry, there are also jobs to be filled in healthcare, education, administration, IT and other sectors.

The governments of Saskatchewan and Manitoba will also have delegations at the expo, where shortages of construction workers are also acute. It is the fourth recruitment trip the Saskatchewan government has taken in recent years to Ireland.

The majority of positions will be available under provincial nominee programmes, which offer workers an “accelerated pathway to permanent residency” within two years, as well as an open work permit for accompanying partners.

Without any direct competition from other countries such as Australia or New Zealand at this weekend's expo, the battle to attract Irish workers will be played out between Canadian provinces, and Sutherland is well prepared to pitch in favour of Alberta.

"With its strong long-term economic outlook, the highest salary per employee in Canada, one of the lowest tax rates and an appealing outdoors lifestyle due to its proximity to the Rocky Mountains, we are hoping Irish workers and their families will see Calgary as an attractive long-term option," she says. "Taking on foreign workers is not a temporary solution for us, it is a long-term project."

Ciara Kenny

Ciara Kenny

Ciara Kenny, founding editor of Irish Times Abroad, a section for Irish-connected people around the world, is Editor of the Irish Times Magazine