Employers of Distinction reflect province’s labour story

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Added training, automation, worker imports as employers look to fewer available workers

Employers cannot be successful, cannot be considered Employers of Distinction, without having the employees they need.

Roseanne Leonard (centre), chairwoman of the Newfoundland and Labrador Employers’ Council, stands with Kay Riggs, vice-president of Dynamic Air Shelters, and Paul Griffen, president and CEO of Marine Atlantic.

On Friday afternoon at the Sheraton Hotel in St. John’s, two companies were awarded the Newfoundland and Labrador Employers’ Council (NLEC) Employers of Distinction award for 2013 — acknowledging leadership, innovation, creativity and a supported workforce.

Dynamic Air Shelters was recognized in the small/medium employer category. Marine Atlantic was the winner amongst larger employers.

In both cases, company leaders said they are currently having a harder time than in years past finding the people they need, to fill positions as they are needed.

They are already looking farther afield for staff who might once have been found from a posting on a local job board.

“We are experiencing the same challenges as every other business. There is international competition for certain types of technical skills,” said Paul Griffin, Marine Atlantic’s president and CEO.

“The economy is really busy. There is a draw from out West. And what we’ve really focused on is employee development (and) training. We do a lot of promoting from within, a lot of development work there. And what we’re trying to do is become an employer of choice, an organization where people want to come to work for us because they get a lot more out of work than just work, if you know what I mean.”

Griffin said having good people, having satisfied workers, leads to good service.

Kay Riggs, vice-president of Dyna­mic Air Shelters, said her company has been tackling some specific skilled-worker shortages in recent years.

“Particularly in some of the management areas, engineering, design, the technical fields. And we’ve resolved that by training, and we’ve hired some people from outside and they’ve come in to work with us. From our shop floor perspective … we need to hire people and they’re not available locally,” she said.

In her acceptance speech for the company’s Employer of Distinction honour, Riggs expressed the ambition of becoming the premiere supplier of temporary, portable airbeam shelters in the world.

A consideration for growth will be labour cost and the availability of skilled labour.

“Three years ago, everybody who worked at our factory lived within a five-kilometre radius. It’s not like that anymore,” she said.

The Grand Bank-based company currently has an employee from Nova Scotia doing turnarounds, along with a temporary foreign worker — a mechanical engineer from the United Kingdom — also on turnaround shifts.

“We’ve implemented lean manufacturing programs to help reduce some of our costs and waste, and now we’re looking at automation and robotics. So how can we do more, smarter? Not necessarily with less people, but we do know that over time we will have less people available,” she said.

Riggs was referring to the province’s demographics, as reiterated in the Conference Board of Canada's most recent long-term forecast, highlighted in a report from The Canadian Press. It notes the province is already seeing more deaths than births and states the province's population will fall from about 527,000 now to 482,000 by 2035.

Fewer people means fewer workers.

“We have got to look at other ways of sustaining our business in rural Newfoundland,” Riggs said.

“If the businesses are going to survive, they’re going to need the workers from somewhere.”

In his keynote speech at the awards ceremony, federal Minister of Employment Jason Kenney said skills shortage is the primary emerging challenge for the Canadian economy.

“While we have to do more and better for training Canadians, especially those who are under-represented in the workforce like aboriginal Canadians, we also have to — in places like Newfoundland and Labrador — do a better job of attracting and welcoming newcomers and their talents from around the world,” he said.

Kenney spoke about the range of federal programs aimed at increasing the number of people in the Canadian workforce — from new apprenticeship loans to employer expressions of interest on international skilled workers.

“There are programs that we’ve introduced that are being underutilized in this province,” he later told reporters.

He encouraged more businesses to begin looking at the global labour market as a way to meet their needs.

Other companies shortlisted for this year's Employer of Distinction Award in the small/medium employer category were ASCO Canada, Ches’s Snacks Ltd., Genoa Design, Hillview Terrace Suites, Labrador West Child Care Inc., Oceaneering Canada Ltd. and Tiller Engineering.

Companies shortlisted in the large-employer company were Newfoundland and Labrador Credit Union, Hickman Automotive Group and Munn Insurance.


Organizations: Marine Atlantic, Sheraton Hotel, Employer of Distinction Grand Bank Conference Board of Canada Canadian Press Snacks Genoa Design Labrador West Child Care Oceaneering Canada Newfoundland and Labrador Credit Union Hickman Automotive Group

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, United Kingdom

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